In the great perfumed whorehouse of technological innovation, no one’s going to kick iPhone, instagram or Tesla out of bed in order to get busy with electricity and gas supply.
But that hasn’t stopped the power giants making strenuous efforts to catch the roving eye of the customer with an idea designed to quicken the circulation.
The power industry, in spite of its stirring self-description, doesn’t really do thrills, cheap or otherwise, so its promise of heightened gratification – also known as smart meters in every home – for its many “account holders” has instead left the poor old customer wondering if technology really is its friend after all.
A piece in the Sunday Times describes the fiasco of the smart meter roll-out, but perhaps made queasy by the sheer unsexiness of the story, the writer shies away from removing too many layers of clothing from the whole sordid scheme.
According to the piece, a government initiative to replace the nation’s serenely revolving gas and electricity meters with electronic smart meters has hit the buffers.
It even found an old boy in Essex to describe his experience with them as “a nightmare.”
The government’s initial enthusiasm (publicly at least) was because of some vague environmental guff, but they just set policy.
It’s the power companies who work out what will and won’t go into people’s houses.
And customers’ only real interest – will I pay less? – has not been borne out.
A quote from the Department of Energy said “They are a vital upgrade to our energy system and will cut bills by £300 million in 2020 alone.”
To which Saint Peacock says, “How will you know?”
There are countless variables that will affect bills in 2020, including the weather, the price of fuel, inflation, competition, disruptive technologies, acts of god and terrorism, and there is no way of knowing what prices, and therefore savings would have been in a parallel universe.
£300m is also known in industry parlance as “fuck all”, especially if you consider that cost of installing these things is estimated at as much as £11 billion.
And as the energy industry is not traditionally known for its generosity, it’s safe to assume that the cost for these things will be passed on to you.
The Telegraph also quotes reports in Canada and Germany that failed to identify any savings to consumers anyway.
Other critics point out that savings on individual household activities are too small for consumers to tell the difference, and what sort of moron spends every waking hour monitoring their power consumption anyway?
But everyone already knows the real energy produced by the power companies goes into working out new ways to gouge money out of people, right?
So more importantly to Saint Peacock’s mind, the Times’ story fails to mention three key points.
- This is further evidence that the internet of things is really just a precursor to the internet of broken things. According to Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at Sussex University. “The technology has generated ‘confusion and resistance’ in many households,” and it will be unloved, untouched, and unmonitored. They won’t work where there is poor mobile signal, and they cannot accommodate a change of provider. In other words, another example of where “upgrade” = pay more for an inferior service.
- There is no mention of the role smart meters play in the collection of customer data. The real value of these meters to power companies lies in their detailed access to your electronic behaviour and ability to market this information to people who wish to sell you stuff. Don’t forget, if something is free, you are the product.
- In the comments section of the Times article, an alarming number of people don’t know how to spell “meter”.