Smart meters and dumb government

This morning’s Observer column.

Underpinning the argument for smart meters are a number of assumptions. One is that, if consumers know how much electricity they are using at any given moment, then they will become more careful about how they use it. Another is that smart metering will enable utility companies to vary the cost per unit on an hourly basis. So electricity might cost 2p a unit at 3am but 12p a unit at 6pm, when the nation gets home, starts cooking and switches on the TV. The combination of these two charges should mean that peak demand is reduced, thereby making operation of the grid easier and less wasteful.

There’s a good case for rethinking the way we supply and charge for electricity, because if we go on as we are – with a dumb grid, dumb meters and accelerating demand – then we’ll eventually find ourselves with the problems that the Indians experienced recently. And that doesn’t bear thinking about.

The problem is that the way the government is approaching the issue doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.