Smart Meters – Given What Government Does Why Do We Want More Of It?

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You don’t have to look far to find those who think we should have more government. It’s perhaps only the last 10% of the Tory Party hanging on to the fringe which argues that perhaps we’ be better off with fewer grand plans. Everyone else is arguing not whether there should be more government but just which particular plan that power of the state should thrust upon us. Much the same is true elsewhere too. We seem caught in a politics which has given up on the basic questions and is stuck in a how d’we spend the loot rather than is it ours to spend loop.

Quite why this is so is somewhat puzzling. We’ve had the recent report into the home insulation schemes which tell us what we should have known already:

But much more than theory or haggling over technical details, we have excellent empirical evidence that a Green New Deal just does not work. It’s been tried, twice, on different sides of the world and it didn’t work either time.

The first time it was Australia. The global recession hits, so as a nice bit of Keynesian pump-priming they figured: Why not insulate the houses of the nation and thereby protect, or even limit, climate change? This plan from the central government meant that every bodger, crook, and incompetent got grants and tax money to ruin houses. They even had a Royal Commissionto tell us all what a disaster it was. It is not a usual belief that either Britain or the U.S. have fewer chancers than Australia.

Despite this report, the British government decided to do the same thing. A central plan, with targets, disbursing rivers of tax money, to insulate the houses of the nation. This was then done so badly that there are fears that as many as a million houses have been ruined, and certainly thousands have been turned into entirely useful mushroom farms and not useful dwellings.

Government simply doesn’t work at this level of detail would be a useful conclusion. And yet people do still insist on ever more such plans:

Consumers face paying half a billion pounds more than expected for the rollout of smart meters and the programme has no chance of hitting its deadline, the UK’s spending watchdog has warned.

The National Audit Office said that with 39m old-fashioned meters yet to be replaced, there is “no realistic prospect” of meeting a goal of all homes and businesses being offered one by the end of 2020 as planned.

In a damning report on the £11bn infrastructure project, the group said that energy suppliers were expecting just 70-75% of households and small businesses to have a smart meter by then.

It’s not actually that difficult a task. We know exactly where every electricity meter in the country is. We’ve even got wires leading from central points to each and every one of them allowing a Theseus and Minotaur search process. And yet a simple rolling process of replacement is beyond government to plan, undertake or even design so implementation is possible.

The report was strongly critical of the government allowing 12.5m first-generation smart meters, known as SMETS1, to be installed – more than twice as many had been expected by this point.

Yep, they even insisted upon the installation of things they knew would need to be replaced stat. One of the more hilarious idiocies is that this is all about being Green, saving power, the bright new dawn of renewables. These meters not being able to take account of home generated power from solar cells. Seriously, go figure.

Certainly, there are some things that must be done, some that can only be done by government. There’s even a select class that both must be done and can only be done by government. But as we can see, government’s not very good at doing things.

Another way to put this is sure, there are some things that markets unadorned don’t do well. But that’s not sufficient to then conclude that government must do this or these things. For our choice is between how markets do it not very well and which manner governments will screw it up. There is no platonic ideal process of government which is the alternative to messy reality.

Or to put it simply, given how badly government cocks things up why do people want more of it?

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Dodgy GeezerSamarkand TonyQuentin VoleBarksintheCountrybloke in spain Recent comment authors
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Patrick
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Patrick

The thing is I don’t give a shit if the government or EDF want me to have a smart meter. I’ve repeatedly declined. When they offer me an incentive I’ll listen.

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

The incentive is that if we all get smart meters and smart appliances over the next couple of decades, we’ll all pay less for electricity because it will be produced and used more efficiently. (For example, if smoothing demand means we need one less pumped-storage dam and reservoir system, that’s quite a saving on the overall capital cost.) It’s really not a complicated idea. Most of the stuff we use electricity for isn’t time sensitive by a minute or two, if appliances are programmed to work that way. Your fridge compressor doesn’t have to run just when Eastenders finishes and… Read more »

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

If electric cars were actually to be taken up widely, watt then?

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

Then we’re going to have a whole bunch of batteries sitting around connected to the mains, mostly not doing anything. It’s going to be interesting when the utility companies realise that 🙂

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

But they’ll be flat, or why would they be plugged in? Once people realise they can’t reliably charge overnight or buy a proper car what then?

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

“But they’ll be flat, or why would they be plugged in?”

People tend to plug in electric cars whenever they’re parked by a charger. Even if the battery’s low, mostly it’s not so low that the battery can’t be used (marginally) to smooth out short-term grid fluctuations.

I don’t know what point you’re trying to make now.

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

You plug in your car overnight, as a routine. Maybe one day you hadn’t run it much. You come down in the morning and there’s less charge than before because the wind didn’t blow. How long are you going to plug it in as routine if it won’t be charged up in the morning.? But the real point is that widespread takeup of electric cars puts way more pressure on the generating capacity. Which has to be built. The petrol infrastructure is there already and responsive to flexible demand.

bloke in spain
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bloke in spain

Rhoda’a quite right. This whole energy policy depends on time shifting demand to when there’s low demand. Eventually you run out of periods of low demand to shift to. So you can forget varying priced electricity for a start. Smart meters aren’t to provide cheap rate power. All electricity will cost the same, irrespective of when used. They’re to manage your ability to consume.

BarksintheCountry
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BarksintheCountry

Of course, rationing is how governments gain ultimate control.

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

What’s the relevance to what we were discussing?

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

Just to be clear, of course anywhere that increases demand for electricity has to build more generating capacity. And I wouldn’t trust our politicians to allow it to be built. But that’s a separate issue. We were talking about what a modern grid system might look like. Adding quarter of a billion kwh of batteries that are mostly left connected to the grid is quite useful. Incidentally, the amount of extra power generation required for electric cars might well be lower than you think. Electric lorries etc are another story, but the amount needed for electric cars isn’t so high.… Read more »

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

The theory is great, Tony. The reality is that a smart meter will allow some spotty kid in a Seoul bedroom to turn all your lights out. i’ll pass, thanks.

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

I would expect that if we left it up to market forces, hackable smart meters wouldn’t last long. Doesn’t seem to be a problem with the current generation of light switches and stuff which are web accessible – that kind of authentication/security is a solved problem, not that it stops people who ignore the right way getting it wrong.

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

If only that were true. Speaking as someone who advises companies on computer security, it’s a very difficult area for the market to address, because security isn’t something that’s visible or easy to measure – the average person (or even business) won’t pay a few pounds extra for a smart meter because it’s more’ secure’, even if that were something that we’re able to demonstrate. When PCs and the Internet first came in, they both spent their first couple of decades repeating the same mistakes that had already been made (and fixed) with the old mainframe computers. The ‘Internet of… Read more »

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

You’re being silly. These things are in homes all over the place. NEST and that kind of thing. They don’t have security holes worth worrying about.

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

It’s that kind of arrogant complacency based only on ignorance that keeps me in well-paid work, cleaning up after fools. Please keep it up.

Or you could Google “NEST security vulnerabilities” and read through the list.

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

But that’s the point, none of them are anything to worry about. And that’s the first generation device, before the market has a chance to correct.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

Speaking as someone who was on the team that did the original work which resulted in the ISO27000 set of standards, I would say that Quentin Vole has a point….

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

Thanks, DG – you’ve helped me earn a lot of money over the last 15 years or so – when I started, it was called BS7799:2 :).

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

Speaking as a former pen-tester, I don’t think ISO compliance is any measure of actual security.

It’s daft to argue about it hypothetically when you just have to look at the world and how many billions of secure transactions take place every day to see that in fact security is not an issue from the end-user perspective.

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

Yes, billions of secure transactions take place every day. And so do thousands of hacks – some severe (ask Maersk if you don’t believe this), some merely annoying (had any spam recently?)

27000 isn’t a measure of security, it’s a certification of security management systems. Rather like ISO 9000, if your business aims to produce concrete lifejackets and you actually produce concrete lifejackets, you’ll pass. As you’d know if you knew anything about security. Which you clearly don’t.

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

I’m well aware of that. Which is why I just said that. Do you need some more coffee this morning?

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

Having a certificate does not mean you are secure – but not being in compliance is not a good indicator! My pen-testing days are also in the past, but that exercise looks at a small part of overall security. The ISO standard (Ex BS, as has been mentioned) defines an overarching management process which matches the countermeasure set to the perceived risk, and maintains that posture as the risk changes. I might suggest that security is less of an issue to the end user precisely because we have that standard – the nearest equivalent US standards are the NIST set,… Read more »

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

In my experience – which also includes security audits for major banks – non-compliance is almost a better sign than compliance. To a large extent it’s simply irrelevant to actual security. The primary attack vector for banks (and almost everyone else) is still physical penetration – and it’s still ludicrously easy. (I should have said I was primarily testing physical security, I’m not techie enough to do much more than stick ` in input fields and see what happens.) Smart meters simply don’t have that vector, so they’re inherently far more secure than most things. Let’s take a step back… Read more »

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

Why would I trust HTTPS less than HTTP? ..The worst-case scenario is that some black hat can remotely brick smart-meters leaving the power turned off. … The most likely case is that someone will alter the charging rate, leaving the power selling companies without money. If someone were to close the meters down in an area including a disabled pensioners home in winter we could be looking at deaths. I’m not sure that you have your risk scenarios well thought out. And the primary attack vector for financial institutions is still, as it has been for some time, social engineering… Read more »

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

“The most likely case is that someone will alter the charging rate, leaving the power selling companies without money.” That makes no sense. The meters meter, not charge. The charging rate displayed is only for advice. “If someone were to close the meters down in an area including a disabled pensioners home in winter we could be looking at deaths.” Yes, or we could just send someone round with a heater. It’s hardly such a terrible problem that it’s utterly insoluble. “And the primary attack vector for financial institutions is still, as it has been for some time, social engineering… Read more »

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

Look, I am the second person to point out that you do not know what you’re talking about, and you seem to be arguing for the sake of arguing. I see no point in correcting you unless you want to pay for consultancy.

As an exercise, work out how the electricity company would know when electricity was used by individual houses (and hence what the bill should be) without a properly functioning meter, and how you would get individual heaters to the specific people who need them in villages across Wales in the middle of winter.

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

I’m wondering if I’ve been paid to clean up your messes. I recognise the style of head-in-the-sand denial of reality. You sound like one of those people who thinks ISO processes mean they have perfect security, and then go on insisting it’s utterly impregnable whilst I’m tossing copies of their bank details and medical records onto the boardroom table.

Power cuts are already a thing.

Electricity companies losing metering information briefly costs them a bit in lost billing opportunities, it’s of no interest to anyone else.

Stop a minute and take a look at the real world, huh?

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

If anyone paid you for any security work they should ask for their money back. Though I doubt it. You don’t seem to have much knowledge of the subject, and you just raise random points to argue about rather than addressing my responses.

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

You haven’t made any substantive responses.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

You have refused to recognise them, because you have no answer to them.

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

‘Them’ – ‘it’ would be more accurate. You’ve gone on and on about the same thing, regardless of how many times you’ve had it explained that it’s entirely irrelevant.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

Because you won’t, or can’t, address the point.

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

The market hasn’t prevented ongoing security holes in computers costing thousands of pounds or smartphones costing hundreds. I fail to see why it will do so for IoT devices costing a few tens of pounds.

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

It has and does. I have no idea what you think people use every day. People balls stuff up all the time, it costs them money, other people learn from the mistake.

Meanwhile, the vast, absolutely overwhelming majority of the stuff going on over the internet remains secure.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

…The incentive is that if we all get smart meters and smart appliances over the next couple of decades, we’ll all pay less for electricity because it will be produced and used more efficiently… Electricity WAS produced VERY efficiently, and we all paid much less – 30 years ago. Electricity produced by ‘green’ methods is MUCH more expensive, and intermittent. These meters are an attempt to enable this inefficient use of electricity by forcing people to use less. It is an astounding attempt to make things worse for everybody for religious reasons. In principle it is an appalling idea, and… Read more »

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

What the fuck are you babbling about? The production methods are unrelated to usage.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

Naughty Words! Production methods are STRONGLY correlated with usage. Look up the word ‘dispatchability’.. And try to educate yourself before shooting your mouth off again… Because the Grid does not store energy, you need to put just as much energy into it as is going out, minute by minute. You need electricity production instantly on demand to achieve this. When I was working on the Electricity Trading floor at British Energy, the traders use to describe the process as like blowing air into a balloon full of holes, and keeping it half-full. Renewable energy cannot do this. No existing storage… Read more »

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

What are you on about? You do understand the concept of ‘other things being equal’? How the electricity is generated is not related in any way to how smart-meters increase efficiency of usage and generation. The whole point of smart meters is to reduce the fluctuations in demand you apparently have experience of. Whether or not we’re using windmills and solar panels, those advantages exist. “No existing storage system is big enough to buffer the energy which would be needed.” If we all have electric cars, we’ll have grid-connected battery storage on a suitable scale to smooth out short term… Read more »

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

You seem to be rambling across a wide variety of topics. The fact remains that ‘renewable’ energy is intermittent. There is no problem servicing the daily ‘double dip’ demand fluctuations using normal generating methods, and our entire generating infrastructure was optimised to do this. Consequently, there was no reason to bring smart meters in to reduce demand fluctuations – they would only do that with horrendous price increases anyway, and a major disturbance to the entire power utilisation structure of the country, which would be highly damaging. The extensive use of electric cars would require a major redesign of the… Read more »

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

I haven’t said anything that contradicts any of that. I’m baffled why you keep side-tracking a discussion about the benefits of smart meters and market-based demand management into your rant about renewables and generating capacity.

You haven’t said a single thing that even touches on my points, let alone argued against them.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

Because you said that ” we’ll all pay less for electricity because it will be produced and used more efficiently”. Which is not true, compared to traditional production methods…

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

It’s true all other things being equal. So true regardless of the production methods.

That smart-meters are associated with a change in generation methods that will increase prices says nothing about smart-meters as an idea. It just says something about politics.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

I don’t know what you mean by ‘all other things being equal’. We had an efficient and well-tuned energy production system. For (mistaken) political reasons we are trying to move to a production system with far worse EROEI and lamentable energy density as well as poor dispatchability. In my book that means the energy production will be much less efficient.

Smart meters are a (poor) attempt to address the dispatchability problem. They have no other purpose. And they are failing at that….

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

Is this really so hard to understand? The two are entirely separate issues.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

My claim “Electricity produced by ‘green’ methods is MUCH more expensive, and intermittent. These meters are an attempt to enable this inefficient use of electricity by forcing people to use less.”

Your claim: “The production methods are unrelated to usage”

It should be clearly understood that if you use a production method which is intermittent, you will only be able to use energy intermittently, and smart meters are intended to enforce such intermittent usage.

Can anyone else understand what, if anything, ST is trying to say?

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

I’m utterly baffled. There’s no link between what I said and what you’re ranting on and on about.

It’s like I mentioned the circuit design of a 5v battery device and you’re going on and on about how Duracell make better batteries than Panasonic. Sure, fine, if you like, happy to stipulate to that if it makes you happy. What’s the relevance, though?

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

You’ve been told. Clearly. Continually claiming that you don’t understand the point leads me to believe that you can’t answer it….

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

You’ve never mentioned what the link might be. You just keep banging on about generation methods in a conversation where they are an irrelevance.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

YOU started by claiming that the new generation methods, which needed smart meters, would be more efficient: …The incentive is that if we all get smart meters and smart appliances over the next couple of decades, we’ll all pay less for electricity because it will be produced and used more efficiently…. I told you where you were wrong. You are horrendously wrong. As well as being inefficient in their own right, the use of renewable energy requires the continuous standby use of conventional generation to fill the gaps. The net result is sky-high prices as we pay for two sets… Read more »

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

You’re still banging on about utter irrelevancies. None of that changes the effect of smart meters. I really don’t see how it’s hard to understand: whatever method of generation is used, smart metering allows demand smoothing which makes the process more efficient.

You can witter on about generation as much as you like, and it’ll never be in any way relevant to something that is not about generation.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

And there you have it. Smoothing only makes generation more efficient if the generation process cannot track demand. if the generation process CAN track demand, it can be optimised for the demand, which is predictable across the country – even, famously, for kettles going on at half-time in the final. You CAN generate to demand with conventional systems, and do it very efficiently. We had a highly optimal, and hence highly efficient generating system 30 years ago. Making the generation intermittent and unpredictable – as it now is – made the whole generation process uneconomic to the point of collapse.… Read more »

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

You don’t buy the con, do you Tim? If I piss on your shoes, will you believe it’s raining?

starfish
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starfish

While I generally subscribe to your view , private industry is not a panacea Anyone who has had to deal with the utility companies or large retailers will have suffered blind incompetence, lack of commonsense, inability to hand on information between ‘agents’ and crass mismanagement of engineering and support staff OpenReach’s machinations for example makes Central Government look like a Swiss watch Anyone seriously contemplating purchase of an electric car that does more that 20 miles a day should contemplate this before buying one – their utility hinges on national government, councils, utilities and manufacturers getting their act together I… Read more »

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

It is instructive to note the development of practical remedies to the multiple failings of ‘sustainable’ energy. These shine a window onto the actual input of engineering sanity on the mindless environmental activists.Though ‘sanity’ is hardly the word for engineers conspiring with activists to oppress the general population… Environmental activists are now well established in positions of power in our government. And they are quite capable of passing laws saying, for instance, that all plastics should be abolished, that mass transport and meat eating should be made illegal and that food should only be consumed within 5 miles of where… Read more »

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

There is something disingenuous about the government’s relationship with the energy companies. Various ‘green’ initiatives are commanded by government and implemented at arm’s length by electricity supply companies. Feed-in-tariffs so beloved of well-off middle class solar panel owners are set by government and paid by the customers who don’t have panels. The electric company is forbidden/discouraged from itemising these payments on your bill. Likewise the scheme whereby poor people get subsidised rates come not from HMG but the other customers, again not itemised. This is nothing more than backdoor tax, but subsidies supported by tax are paid for by everybody… Read more »

Samarkand Tony
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Samarkand Tony

“We know exactly where every electricity meter in the country is.” {{Citation needed}}, as they say on Wikipedia. I’ve had personal experience of several exceptions. At one point I didn’t get an electricity bill for four years because they refused to read the meter because it was in the ‘wrong place’ according to their records. I’ve also once had to sort out the complications involved in them insisting that an electricity meter didn’t exist, despite having billed the account holder for decades. My impression is that the database is at best ~98% accurate for practical purposes, and a lot less… Read more »