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Electricity Ireland: Almost a million smart meters not being used in €1.2bn scheme

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Only a tiny fraction of the almost one million electricity customers with smart meters are using them as intended.

ore than 930,000 smart meters have been installed in homes and small businesses under a €1.2bn scheme over the past three years.

A further 10,000 are being installed weekly with the aim of reaching 2.4 million in 2024.

But just 37,900 customers, 4pc of the current total, have activated their meters and signed up to the “time of use” or “smart” tariffs they were designed to facilitate.

Smart meters are meant to monitor and record electricity use throughout the day.

That would help people choose money-saving smart tariffs that best suit their needs.

The State is also supposed to benefit by smart tariffs incentivizing people to delay non-essential electricity use to off-peak times. That would avoid the massive surge in demand that strains supply every evening, raising fears of power outages.

It would also help lower greenhouse gas emissions as peak-time demand often has to be met by turning on back-up generation plants that are powered by burning fossil fuels such as oil.

But electricity suppliers have failed to explain the smart meter plan to customers, give them enough information to make informed decisions or offer deals attractive enough to make switching to smart tariffs worthwhile. Now the energy regulator is directing suppliers to inject urgency into the scheme.

“We are challenging suppliers to up their game as regards their offerings and their communication to customers,” a spokesperson for the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) said.

“A smart meter can sit on your wall and won’t do anything. The data is sitting there doing nothing.

“People need to be engaged more and that’s the point of the campaign.”

ESB Networks, which is in charge of the meters, is now working on developing a customer data portal to give people real-time information about their electricity use.

The portal, to be online and in an app, will be for use by all customers whether or not they have a smart meter.

“This will provide customers with online independent access to their consumption data,” the Department of Environment said.

This would allow customers to “assess opportunities to reduce their use or move their use to off-peak periods which can reduce the carbon footprint of their use and potentially save them money”.

Saving money would be a key incentive for activating smart meters and switching to time of use tariffs.

Early trials showed customers cut peak-time use by 8pc.

The CRU admitted, however, that the deals on offer to date have not been persuasive. There is also public fear that they could end up paying extra-high charges for peak-time use that would not be compensated by low prices off-peak.

The CRU said much of the pressure on suppliers to offer good deals would have to come from customer demand.

Price comparison websites bonkers.ie, switcher.ie and powertoswitch.ie have CRU accreditation which certifies the algorithms they use to calculate comparisons.

“If your supplier isn’t offering you a competitive time-of-use tariff with your smart meter, you should go and look for another supplier who does,” the spokesperson said.

“Competition in the marketplace will put downward pressure on the tariffs.”

Data protection experts have expressed concern about the amount of information collected by smart meters.

They say once activated, the meters effectively track and record people’s activities and movements around the clock via their power usage.

The Department of the Environment said a code for smart meter data access was being drawn up to “standardise matters such as third party access to customer meter data”.

ESB Networks said customers were not objecting to meter installation because of data protection issues in any significant numbers.

“The vast majority of customers contacted have had a smart meter installed,” it said.

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