Smart meters: the glass half empty of the internet of things

As someone who makes a living of talking about and designing connected products, I also try to eat my own dog food. I signed up to Hive last summer after working with British Gas on an event and with EDF for years. I know enough about how the energy sector to be curious. These things aren’t easy to push through, design or deploy.

It cost me £200 and after some teething problems, was very useful in the deepest darkest of winter. I could switch the heating on from the comfort of my bed or as I emerged from the underground and was 20 minutes away from home. Or switch it off remotely. I now almost never interact with my thermostat.

Fast forward to a few months ago and British Gas reached out about the free setup of a smart meter that would give me another display to show how much money I was spending. That seemed useful and I agreed. So they came in last week to set up the new meter and display except as I live on the second floor it turns out the display’s radio signal can’t reach into my home. So if I want to know how much I’m spending I need to put some batteries in and bring the display to the meter which is outside the house.

This doesn’t make any sense. I asked the engineer if they were getting the data, wasn’t there some kind of online dashboard I could interrogate with that same information? No.

Thankfully they had problems provisioning the hardware so had to book another appointment in 2 months to complete setup. I won’t be completing this setup because frankly, connected product solutions that don’t offer consumer value but only offer corporate value should absolutely never be implemented or allowed to be rolled out.

Ideally the engineer should have never even begun the work and simply said: “We can’t get your display to work, so we won’t set it up” and that would be made me feel like they care about their customer’s energy use and not just their data gathering activities.

An even more ideal situation would be for the smart meter to connect to the Hive app and  show me the spending information there .

Implementing connected product solutions is as much about hardware and engineering problems as it is about corporate product development.  Different groups have to learn to interact with each other much more seamlessly, only then can successful customer experiences be designed.

By designswarm

Blogging since 2005.


  1. I have British Gas smart meters gas and electric,and my display works fine as its close to the electric meter. I can also see my usage numbers online by just looking at my account information.
    I can see the readings even from the previous day,as the numbers are sent out each night over the mobile phone network.
    So you do not ‘have’ to use the display just look on the internet.

    1. Hi Dennis,
      When you say usage number, do you mean money spent? If so then their engineers aren’t exactly well trained and i’d still prefer to see this information in an ambient way at home or on my phone directly.


      1. When I say usage I mean money spent and kWh numbers for both gas and electric.
        I just looked at mine online,and had information up to yesterday as to how much I had spent on both fuels since my last quarterly direct debit,both in pounds and pence and kWh numbers,or in other words the meter readings.

        The information is there online for you, must admit though I prefer to use the display,but when I want to see my latest balance I go to the website,and the information is normally only a day or so old.
        Can’t think why the engineer never mentioned it? its there just log into your account,they could make it a touch easier to find though.

  2. The shared consumer and corporate value proposition for connected products — in this context — is energy efficiency; for example, by reducing peak demand (which energy companies claim benefits both business and customer). Quality UX should of course be a given, but the fundamental value equation in this industry comes down to money saved, on both sides.

    1. Yes but energy choices are made on a daily basis in a habitual way, without tools like Hive to connect energy and budget on the go, you don’t break habits or reduce consumption. You just do surveillance and control.

      1. I agree with this. And don’t get me wrong, much of what I’ve read about in this space (such as Nest pilots with energy companies to control consumption without users’ knowledge) really does scare me! I am definitely not a proponent of the surveillance and control model, but I fear this is the only thing the corporates care about. I just hope there will be some oversight and regulation to balance things out.

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