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UK.gov blows a fuse at smart meter stall, sets new 2020 deadline

And once that meter is in, it'll never come out

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Smart meters won't be fully rolled out in the UK until 2020, one year later than planned.

And replacing a smart meter with a dumb one won't be allowed under a new set of rules, which are intended to speed up lagging deployments.

Smart meters, described the other week as "crap computers in a crap box" by an electronic security expert, will be installed in homes to monitor and control the use of gas and electricity. The delay and restrictions were slipped out in a report [PDF] from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The document laments the slow rollout of the equipment, so the government has promised to create national infrastructure by the end of 2015, as well as requiring energy companies acquiring new customers to fit smart meters or pay to hire the existing installation - all for the good of the planet, of course.

Companies investing in smart meters need to know they'll make their money back, and that's what the new rules are intended to guarantee.

The smart meter fitted by a supplier belongs to that supplier, and is paid for by them, so a customer who changes suppliers shortly after a smart meter is fitted represents a lost investment. The new supplier could fit a new smart meter, but given the cost of installation it should always be cheaper to pay rental to the old supplier, and this new rule prevents the new supplier slapping a cheapo dumb meter in its place.

The rules apply to gas and 'leccy supplies and come with an admission that the mass deployment won't be completed until 2020, rather than the scheduled date in 2019. That delay means infrastructure companies get until autumn 2015 to commission the requisite data networks, which could be important for some of the more interesting backhaul technologies being developed.

Existing smart meters are using the cellular networks, generally 2G, which isn't ideal. The signalling overheads required by a GSM connection can easily be bigger than the actual data being harvested from an electricity meter, and there's considerable overheads in maintaining a GSM even when it's not being used.

White Space networks could fit well. The radio frequencies used by the devices to communicate, spectrum slots formerly occupied by analogue TV, penetrate brick walls well and the Weightless protocol has been designed with just such applications in mind. White Space legislation, however, is still pending in the UK.

Similar is the 900MHz ISM band, which is soon to be released for UK use, and eagerly awaited by companies such as Silver Spring who are looking forward to running meshed networks in the unlicensed band.

Existing backhaul networks hardly justify the estimated £11.7bn cost of the scheme, which is supposed to pay for itself through the reducing of costs via accurate billing and the lowering of energy use. The oft-repeated premise is that once we can see live charts of our energy consumption we will rush about turning stuff off, as the ruinous cost of electricity at the moment clearly isn't motivation enough.

Smart meters are also supposed to drive down energy costs by making it easier for us to change suppliers. That is, so long as those suppliers are happy to rent the smart meter fitted by our last supplier; otherwise, they'll have to fit a new meter, with the associated costs.

So the cost of smart metering won't appear in the government budget because it will be met by suppliers. They'll pass those costs on in higher energy prices to us, so perhaps smart meters will drive down consumption after all. ®

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