Yesterday British Gas came to change our electric meter. We now have one of those new smart meters. They are updating meters all over the UK. The new meters come in two parts, the first is in its usual place in your electric meter cupboard and the second is a portable device that you plug in to a socket in your home. The new meters serve two main purposes – to allow British Gas to take accurate readings remotely and to allow home owners to see how much electricity they are using.
How Do The New British Gas Meters Work?
The old meters showed an analogue dial which had to be read by a British Gas employee (or other energy supplier) or the resident. The new meters have digital displays. What’s more, they also contain a mobile phone SIM card (Vodafone SIMS are the chosen partner) which transmits data back to British Gas. The same data is also transmitted to the portable meter in your own home, the “in-home display”. Vodafone supply global system for mobile (GSM) modules and modems, and to provide network connectivity, managed via its global machine-to-machine (M2M) platform. You can read more about the partnership on DataMonitor.com: Vodafone’s smart metering deal with British Gas could convince machine-to-machine skeptics.
It is funny to think that the readings from the in-home display are sent from your electric meter via mobile telecommunications. This connection is on all the time. We did briefly pick up a new wireless signal, BG**, the other day, so it seems that the link between the meter and the in-house display is actually a wireless connection and not going via the mobile networks.
Vodafone’s network must be working hard to maintain all these new connections. Vodafone explain the system better than I:
“Wireless communications can help electricity grids deliver energy more efficiently. According to Carbon Connections, smart grid innovations could offer savings across Europe of 43 Mt CO2. The 500 million connections required to achieve this could save an estimate €11billion a year by 2020.”
They also provide some additional insights into why the smart metering is being set up:
“Better information means utilities can manage the network more effectively and consumers can use electricity more intelligently i.e. be charged in ‘real time’.” – Vodafone.
The idea of using electricity more intelligently seems to be a bit a bit of clever marketing. As I mentioned to the British Gas engineer yesterday, if it turns amber I am not going to leap up and start turning things off. Besides, the kids will only turn lights and television back on again ….
The Portable Meter
The new portable home meters provide several new services. This meter is wireless (apart from the electricity cable) so it picks up a signal from your meter in the electric meter box.
Firstly, they display the time and temperature, which is a useful feature to have. The main feature though is that they display how much electricity you are using per minute. In the photo to the left the meter is showing a usage of 0.11 Kw per minute.
The meter also shows the cost of the electricity used in pounds. You can view how much electricity you use each day and each week to compare usage.
The green light is a “traffic light” system. Green means that you are using very little electricity – and not spending much money. Amber indicates a higher usage. When I turned the kettle on it turned to amber. Using the computer with a few lights on and the fridge, and it is green.
The third light is blue and lights up when British Gas send you a message. So far only a welcome message has appeared. It is likely that future messages will be reminders of gas bills and maybe even news and offers from British Gas.
It is likely that in the future British Gas will update their gas meters too. The home meter is equipped to display a gas meter reading as well, although this function is currently not available.
You should be receiving a call from British Gas soon to arrange a time to upgrade your meter. The engineer that came to our house was very efficient, was happy to answer questions and did a quick job. Our electric was only off for about 15 minutes while he changed the meters over.
Funny, as when British Gas first called me to talk about the meter I did wonder if it was an elaborate scam by some other energy company to get me to transfer. They even asked if I needed a home insulation top up. However, this time I listened and and pleased to report that this is not a scam, it is British Gas installing their new smart meters, and they are indeed very smart!
If you wish to learn more about smart meters then British Gas have a web page dedicated to them here: http://www.britishgas.co.uk/smarter-living/control-energy/smart-meters.html