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Why did EDF Energy install a smart meter 9ft high where I couldn’t reach it?

When Joy Thomas was told she needed her energy meter replaced five years ago with a ‘smart’ one, her supplier said she’d be able to save money by seeing live data of her power usage.

But the 73-year-old, who lives in the Cornish hamlet of Goonlaze four miles west of St Austell, found her bills in fact shot up. She rang her supplier, EDF Energy, which confirmed that the smart meter was not working properly – and told Joy to supply the readings herself.

There was just one problem: the meter had been installed 9ft off the ground due to the area’s weak mobile signal, which the devices rely on to operate.

Our reader's meter has been installed 9ft off the ground due to the area's weak mobile signal

Our reader's meter has been installed 9ft off the ground due to the area's weak mobile signal

Our reader’s meter has been installed 9ft off the ground due to the area’s weak mobile signal

‘I am just 5ft and a chocolate tall,’ Joy explains. ‘They told me to stand on a chair to take a reading. I am not going to risk myself just for the convenience of an energy supplier.

‘If I was a few years younger I might have had a go by bouncing up and down on a pogo stick to get up that high but even on a chair I cannot reach to see.’ 

One of the key reasons for introducing smart meters was that energy suppliers would be able to read meters remotely by using radio wave signals. But the deadline for every household to have a smart meter installed was recently pushed back five years to 2025 due to problems getting the equipment to work properly or be accepted.

The original gadgets often go ‘dumb’ and only work like a traditional meter if you want to change your energy supplier. And despite introducing more reliable meters – called SMETS 2 – two years ago, there are still problems with weak signals. 

Those in areas with poor mobile phone reception often do not pick up a strong enough radio signal to enable energy suppliers to operate remote readings. Joy has now got a meter reader who comes to visit and climbs a ladder to check usage. 

She says: ‘Some twit in a London office came up with this daft idea without thinking it through – forgetting it does not actually save people energy and will not work in millions of homes like mine where there is no mobile phone reception.’

Smart meters are being installed in all 27million houses nationwide as part of an eye-wateringly expensive £11billion project. This cost is being footed by homes through higher energy bills.

Once fitted, energy suppliers should be able to save money by not having to come out and read your meter. 

Each household also gets a hand-sized gadget that lets them see in near-real time how much energy is being used. In theory, seeing how much energy you are using makes it easier to cut back – for example, by turning off lights.

But more than two million homes are believed to suffer from being in a mobile phone reception ‘black spot’ – so may also struggle with the ‘smart’ meters. 

The meters are not compulsory and customers can refuse to have one installed. Yet energy firms have resorted to underhand tactics to ensure they are fitted – including offering cheaper tariffs to those that agree to have one of the new meters. 

Until mobile phone reception is improved nationwide, those homes in a black spot will continue to be blighted with a smart meter that is effectively ‘dumb’. Initially, the new meters were to have been installed in all homes by this year but only about half have actually been fitted.

EDF Energy says: ‘Occasionally we may not be able to install or connect a smart meter during an appointment due to technical reasons such as signal strength. 

‘When a smart meter cannot be connected it will still work the same as a non-smart meter, recording energy used.’ 

She adds: ‘While we understand this is frustrating for customers, as soon as we are able to connect the meter we will do so.’

The Government-backed campaign body Smart Energy GB is promoting the smart meter rollout. It has a £224million budget to spend on advertising to convince everyone to have a smart meter installed.

Smart Energy GB says: ‘All second generation smart meters use a dedicated, secure network that will cover 99.25 per cent of Great Britain by the end of the rollout. If you live in an area with a poor mobile phone signal it will not be a barrier to upgrading to smart meters.’ 

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