Thursday, April 25, 2024

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Meters really smart?


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WHERE HAS it been done before? That’s the question we often hear in Barbados when innovative ideas are put forward to Governments or to private investors. This can be annoying since it implies that we don’t have confidence in ourselves as pioneers.

However, when we’re planning to import technology currently being used in another country, one would think it would be prudent to use the experience of that country in the use of said technology in our decision making. True, the introduction of smart meters hasn’t been confirmed by Barbados Light & Power and they’re reportedly conducting an in-depth study, but one wonders if this study is really necessary since the major shareholder in BL&P, a Canadian company, should already be familiar with the apparently few pros and numerous cons with using these meters in Canada.

There were swift published responses to news of the possibility of using these meters by both locals and Canadians, none of which seemed particularly encouraging. I, myself, had several conversations with Canadian visitors recently who deemed their use in Canada to be a dismal failure. They explained that billions of dollars had been spent on meters that haven’t saved them energy or money. Furthermore, some of these meters can be unsafe, with the possibility of causing fires. Canada’s auditor general criticized the “cost overruns and poor performance” claiming that one in six of the meters had not transmitted any readings of electricity use and the doubling in cost of a system that was supposed to come in at $1 billion. (Toronto Star). Knowing that Barbados’ second name is “overrun”, we need to exercise extreme caution.

Furthermore, the auditor general noted that the pricing system has had only “a modest impact on reducing peak demand among householders and no impact at all on energy conservation”.

We know that whenever something new is proposed, (like the BL&P’s wind turbine a few years ago) there are inevitable claims of danger to health and every possible red herring is put in the way. There’s no shortage of these arguments (like privacy, security and health risks) against the smart meters if one reads comments on the Internet. While not all can be taken seriously,  when an auditor general is critical and Lloyd’s of London Insurance allegedly does not cover damage to a home or personal property caused by “smart meters” ( . . . then I think we should listen.

It’s not only Canadians who’ve questioned the benefits of using these meters,  The Washington Post reported that while there were more than 50 million smart meters deployed across the United States, the technology itself is failing to live up to the high hopes that initially accompanied metering rollouts. And in the United Kingdom, a study compiled by Strathclyde University has questioned whether the introduction of smart energy meters to households will result in the 3 per cent reduction in energy consumption that the ­government claims will be achieved by 2030.

The auditor general in Canada further claimed that a proper cost/benefit analysis wasn’t done.We hope we won’t make the same mistake, and that it won’t just end up costing the customer and benefiting the company. That charge has already been made by some on the Internet. Remember LIME’s attempt at moving from paper bills to e-bills?

Another comment from Canada’s auditor general was: “Given the large scale of smart metering and the high risk associated with new technology, its implementation should have warranted strong governance and oversight.” I’m sure CLICO policyholders would agree that “oversight” is not our strong point so we should be cautious.

Now to the water meter issue. Didn’t Government some time ago buy back  its water meters left in the port and subsequently sold at a port auction? Is it true that these meters are now to be replaced by new digital meters? If so, was the supply of these meters put out to tender? Bearing in mind that the BWA Special Audit (2010) reported large payments paid for materials that were never delivered and that no due diligence was done on the suppliers, is due diligence being done on the present meter supplier?

Finally, is the experience with the new factory in Guyana being considered in our sugar factory plan? When we’re jumping on bandwagons, we need to choose them carefully.

• Dr. Frances Chandler is a former independent senator. Email:


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