EDF ENERGY customers may be facing surprise bills after The INQUIRER discovered that some of its smart meters have been failing to send data since last November.
The problem stems from a faulty firmware drop released last November 5th, that EDF tells us has affected a 'lot' of smart meter customers.
The meter is supposed to sync with the paired electricity meter using Zigbee. This is meant to upload meter reading at regular intervals over GSM using a SIM card. However, this has been failing to pass the information on, meaning EDF is being told by customers' meters there is zero gas being used.
It is, we were told, a known problem, with no end in sight. Yet affected customers have not been proactively informed about the issue, and when we questioned yesterday why our EDF smart meter, which is designed to take the guesswork out of billing, had left us with a debit of £320 over the winter, we were told that it is the responsibility of the customer to check if payment amounts are correct.
Further, we were told that customers should be using a belt and braces approach, and continue to take meter readings. All of which completely defeats the point of smart meters for the customer.
EDF have said that they did warn customers at the time that there might be temporary errors on their display but it would not affect their bills. Alas, the problem runs deeper, and it's now March.
Although the company says that 85,000 customers were successfully updated and less than one percent failed, it hasn't given us the exact number of potentially affected customers.
We pointed out to EDF that, if their equipment was working properly, customers' direct debits would have been updated to reflect their actual usage, and therefore it had failed to provide one of the main advertised selling points of the meter scheme.
All homes in the UK are due to have smart metering by 2020 under government legislation, but the scheme has been beset by many problems, including incompatibility between meters being installed by different suppliers, leading to predictions that the target will be missed.
Unless they meet the SMETS1 standard (which current EDF meters do not by default) by changing provider, the meter may fail to function as "smart" and you will end up taking meter readings anyway. Rather as EDF customers are being advised to do now.
They told us: "We are aware that in some rare cases the meters no longer communicate with our systems. We are in the process of identifying whether there are additional actions we can take to fix this issue, and will ensure that all efforts will be taken to ensure the smart meters work as they should. This may include replacing the smart meter if necessary," adding that where a firmware drop fails, they retry sending it until it works.
In March 2016, GCHQ was forced to intervene over the poor security in smart meters leading to the new standard. IoT devices have been beset by problems of security, and although smart meters are isolated from the rest of the home, this provides even less chance of the end user detecting a fault.
The current advice we can offer is that if you're offered a smart meter, check with your provider that the models they are currently installing are SMETS1 compliant. If not, decline until they are. If you have a smart meter, check regularly online that your bill is being updated (you can opt for readings as often as twice-hourly with some companies) or if you've been given an energy meter, check that.
EDF have told us that they will be rolling out SMETS1 compliant meters later in the year, but existing smart customers won't have their meters replaced as they intend to add SMETS1 compliance via the borked firmware update (slightly ironically).
And, though it pains us to say this, we have to echo what EDF advised us. If you have a smart meter, with any supplier, don't assume it's working. For peace of mind, take manual readings twice a year and submit them, just as you did before.
Yeah, that's the rub. Not even the smart meter provider trusts them.
Some of the information in this article was given to us by EDF's customer service team who were dealing with us as customers, not journalists. We have asked EDF for a statement in our official capacity, particularly asking why it had failed to inform customers after the firmware drop borked their meters, on the cusp of the coldest part of the year.
Their initial response from a spokesperson was: "Our aim is to install a smart meter for every single customer that wants one, helping them to save energy and money.
"Unfortunately in a small number of cases, smart meters can experience problems that result in limited functionality. Where we have identified smart meters working with limited functionality, we are working to resolve these for customers as quickly as possible."
We've gone back to them as we feel that our concerns have not been fully addressed. EDF has also pointed out that our specific meter was impacted by a secondary problem as well as the upgrade drop failure, though the symptoms and outcomes are the same.
We'd also add that we've already had the meters replaced once due to failures of the smart technology, and that we were told unofficially by customer services that reattempting a firmware drop was a manual, not automatic process that could take up to two weeks, in deference to the official statements. What's more, the success rate of resends has, thus far, not been good. µ
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