Housing associations and tenants can benefit from updating existing analogue electricity meters to smarter devices – and without spending a fortune

Industry comment by Craig Mellor, Director, Deer Technology Ltd

With the majority of social housing tenants having contracts directly with electricity suppliers, you could be forgiven for wondering how housing associations could benefit from upgrading conventional meters to smart meters. In fact, there are many advantages for both housing associations and tenants.

In 2019 the UK Government legislated to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. One result of this has been to put pressure on housing associations to decarbonise the UK’s social housing stock, though housing associations in some areas need to move even faster because local authorities have committed to decarbonisation by 2030.

There is a truism in the field of energy management, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it’. Traditional analogue electricity meters do measure electricity consumption but they tend to be read so infrequently that the information is of limited value. Smarter devices can provide a level of detail that is simply not possible otherwise, and this provides the visibility necessary to see how and where improvements can be made. Tenants with higher consumption can be helped to improve energy efficiency, and maybe the property would benefit from better insulation.

Housing associations can also benefit from a clearer picture of consumption by lifts, corridor lighting, security lighting and other communal facilities. Again, having detailed data on total consumption and patterns of consumption can enable the housing association to take action that supports decarbonisation – and, at the same time, reduce operating costs and the service charges for tenants.

Voids are a significant problem for many housing associations. If a property remains empty for an extended period, particularly in the colder months, damp can set in. This makes the property even harder to let and can also result in costly repairs being required. If heating is left on at a low level to ward off damp, the benefits can easily outweigh the costs of electricity, repairs, redecorating and loss of rent. Furthermore, monitoring the electricity consumption remotely ensures the costs are managed properly.

Damp can also be a problem with occupied properties. Monitoring electricity consumption can help to identify under-heated homes, so advice can be given to tenants and damp-related damage prevented.

Another important advantage of smarter devices for housing associations is that it provides data that can rapidly identify energy theft. If a meter has been tampered with, the sudden change of consumption can be a tell-tale sign. Similarly, if the theft is taking place from a void property or a communal area, the spike in consumption can be spotted very quickly so timely action can be taken.

Energy theft is not only costly but it is also extremely dangerous. Injuries and fatalities can occur during or after a person has tampered with the wiring or meter, but smart metering can act as a deterrent. Sometimes it is a subsequent tenant who is injured or killed as a result of a previous tenant’s tampering; updating ‘dumb’ meters to smarter devices can help to prevent this.

What many housing associations would like today is accurate electricity meter reads at a frequency of their choosing. Ideally, the necessary hardware would be installed quickly without interrupting the supply, and the costs of installation and data provision should be low enough that they can be readily justified. The same is true for all properties but the problems tend to be more acute in older housing stock.

Depending on the contractual arrangements, housing associations could also provide the meter readings to the electricity retailers, so the latter would no longer need to gain access to the properties to take visual readings.

Cost-effective solution

Fortunately, all of these problems can be solved cost-effectively by Deer Technology’s LimpetReader. This clever, battery-powered opto-electronic device attaches to the meter’s faceplate with optical tape or adhesive. There is no need to dismantle the meter or interrupt the supply. Installation takes around 10 minutes and the meter’s register remains visible should a visual read be necessary. Dual-register meters are fitted with two LimpetReaders to capture readings from both registers.

For regulatory purposes, the patented LimpetReader is unique among automated reading systems in that readings are classified as ‘visual’. This means suppliers never need to send anyone to read the meter manually.

If a LimpetReader was removed or tampered with, this would be identifiable immediately from the data output.

To make the LimpetReader as compact as possible, it incorporates multiple micro-cameras for imaging the register. The images are date- and time-stamped before being transmitted to Deer Technology’s secure server.

Images are sent to the server via GSM technology over any of the UK’s four mobile phone networks. Multiple LimpetReader devices can be linked to a single AutoReader transmitter, which is ideal for housing associations with multiple tenants in a single building. Once on the server, the images are stitched together to create a high-quality, distortion-free image of the meter’s register. This is then decoded into a numerical value, which is stored together with the high-quality image of the register. Data and images can be accessed by the customer in a variety of ways, depending on the requirements. For instance, an API (application programming interface) can be provided, data sent as spreadsheet files, or dashboards created for high-quality reporting.

Deer Technology provides a comprehensive service covering everything from meter installation through to data management. The service starts with a customer consultation to establish the optimum overall solution to the problem of meter reads and data management. Deer Technology installs the LimpetReaders and AutoReaders, then provides a data service for reporting, visualisation and delivering data to the customer’s databases as required.

As we have already discussed, data visibility helps to reduce electricity consumption, and retrofitting conventional meters with smart technologies provides a range of additional benefits for housing associations and tenants. Although wind and solar are increasing their share of the UK electricity supply mix, a substantial proportion of the UK’s electricity is still generated by burning fossil fuels. Reducing electricity consumption therefore cuts carbon emissions, which is good for the environment and helps housing associations’ decarbonisation programmes.

Deer Technology estimates that there are millions of analogue electricity meters in social housing that could be converted to smart devices using its LimpetReader solution. Moreover, LimpetReaders can also be used on water meters to deliver similar benefits: accurate billing, better visibility of consumption data to enable savings to be made, and an early warning of leaks or theft. Again, millions of water meters in social housing could be retrofitted with LimpetReaders.

Find out more about Deer Technology’s LimpetReader for converting analogue meters to smart devices at deertechnology.com, telephone 01639 363146