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An update on our smart installations

A picture of the In-Home Display that comes with your smart meter

Since February we’ve been installing smart meters in our members’ homes. Some members have been having issues with them. Smart tech for energy is still quite new, and new technology at scale rarely comes without a challenge. In this update, we talk about the challenges we’re facing and what we’re doing to solve them.

As you might have read, the smart meter roll-out has been having some issues. Some people's In-Home Displays haven't been displaying their energy use and some smart meters haven't been connecting to the communications network they use to beam energy data back to us. These issues seem to be affecting all suppliers, and we've had our share. We’ve installed smart meters for 24,000 members since February. At least 7,000 people have reported an issue since then.

We're sorry this has been happening. We don't want to let our members down and we really believe in smart meters. When we get through these initial difficulties they’re going to help people understand their energy better and work towards a greener grid. However, these issues are happening and we’d like to share what's been going on and what we're doing to fix it.

Some smart meters aren’t communicating as they should be

Approximately 7,000 meters aren't working as they should be. Either the In-Home Display (IHD) isn’t working or the smart meter is not connecting to the network properly. Both issues are communications problems. The smart meters are working and they’re recording the energy being used, they’re just not able to communicate readings to the IHD or to Bulb. In other words, they’re functioning like a traditional meter (not very smart, we know). For accurate bills, some members will need to send us meter readings until we’ve solved the problem. No one will pay for energy they haven’t used, and no one will be cut off because of these issues.

We're working hard on fixing these problems. Within two weeks, we’ll introduce a way for members to fix their IHD through their Bulb Account. We'll keep members affected by this regularly updated.

No one should need a new In-Home Display or a new smart meter installation. The majority of these problems are fixable 'over the air' or by members doing something simple themselves. A small number of people might require a visit from an engineer, but it should be a quick visit.

We’re fixing an issue with In-Home Displays that aren’t showing information

Some members have In-Home Displays that aren’t showing information from their gas or electricity meters. We worked with our In-Home Display manufacturer and have identified the root cause which is preventing some meters connecting to their IHD. We're carrying out a fix at the moment to solve the issue. After this, we expect our future smart meter installations to connect to their In-Home Displays.

We’re also fixing the issue for members who have already had a smart meter installed and are experiencing this problem. It’s a manual process which begins at Bulb HQ, so we’re working through the list one by one. Once things are fixed here, we’ll be in touch with members individually with instructions on what they should do next. It’s a quick fix, which works in most cases. We're letting members know what the next steps are and how long the process will take.

We’re working with the smart network to ensure more meters can connect

Smart meters communicate with energy suppliers through a nationwide smart network. The network is divided in two: the north, which communicates using radio waves, and the central and southern regions which use a mobile signal.

Energy suppliers have experienced problems connecting smart meters to the radio network in the north, so we’re installing fewer smart meters there while this is fixed.

Some members have had problems with meters failing to connect to the network in areas where the signal is strong, so we’ve been working closely with the Data Communications Company (DCC) who are the organisation in charge of building and maintaining the smart networks. We’ve helped identify problems and we’ve been working directly with DCC to find solutions.

And we’ve been talking regularly to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the government team overseeing the nationwide smart rollout. We’re making sure they understand the situation not just for Bulb, but for every energy supplier.

The number of successful installations in the North has been increasing, and our installation numbers match those of other energy suppliers, but we know we can do better.

We’re not inviting members to book installations if we think the installation is likely to fail

When some members told us they were keen to get a smart meter, we invited them to join our waiting list. Some members on the list have been frustrated that they haven’t been invited to book an installation yet.

We want every member to have the best smart meter experience possible. So before we invite members to book an installation, we run some technical checks. These cover things like the strength of the DCC network in your area and the type of meter you have.

If you haven’t received an invitation to book an appointment yet, we’ll send one as soon as we're confident your installation has a high chance of success. We’ve written more about why you might not be able to get a smart meter in our help centre.

We’ve trained more Energy Specialists to help answer your questions

We’ve listened to feedback from our members and we’ve been improving the way we communicate about our installations. We found that having dedicated energy specialists in the smart team just wasn’t enough to deal with our members' queries.

Over the last month, we’ve given every energy specialist smart training so they can fix smart meter problems faster. We’ve also been tightening up our email communications. If there’s a problem we’ll explain what went wrong and why, how the problem will be fixed, and how long the fix will take.

New technology takes time to settle in and we think it’s worth the wait

The government has set an ambitious target for domestic and business energy suppliers: every home and small business should be offered a smart meter by the end of 2020. This is new technology and the smart ecosystem is complex. It involves different data companies, suppliers, manufacturers, engineers and software. Processes that work well in a small testing environment can work in unexpected ways when you start to add thousands or millions more variables.

Just under a year ago, there were only 1,000 smart meters connected to the DCC. On Wednesday 22nd May, DCC announced that 1 million smart meters are now connected to their network. That’s a lot of information travelling on a very new system.

This stuff is hard. We've made good progress so far and we’re not stopping yet. We believe in the benefits of smart meters. They’ll help create a greener grid, and give people a better understanding of the energy they’re using.

We waited to install second-generation smart meters (SMETS2), because they stay smart even when you switch supplier, and we think providing that choice is the fairest option for everyone.

We’ll keep you up to date on our new smart projects and we’ll invite you to build them with us

With every smart meter installation, we’re learning more about the smart ecosystem. As more energy suppliers install more smart meters, the collective knowledge builds and the system gets more robust. This will build a strong foundation for new products and services which support Bulb’s core mission, and the reason we believe our members have joined us: to lower bills and reduce carbon emissions.

There might be a few bumps along the way, but we’ll let you know how things are developing, here on the blog. And we’ll be inviting our members to test new smart products and services with us, to make sure the things we’re building are the right ones for the job.