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Think your smart meter is free? Think again

Government and the energy industry says smart meters will help us all save energy and money. Credit: ITV/Tonight

"Why aren't more people talking about it?" That's the most common question I get when I tell people about the biggest IT infrastructure project in UK history. After all, it concerns two of the things that people care most about - their homes and their money.

Yet I think smart meter roll-out has attracted remarkably little public debate - ours is the first documentary to be made on the subject. I hope the Tonight programme can help simulate a far wider discussion. After all, this isn't a remote issue - it will be reaching every household in Great Britain between now and 2020.

Smart meters offer the potential for some undeniable benefits. Government and the energy industry insist that they will help us all save energy and money. However our research has uncovered serious questions about the cost, inconvenience and effectiveness of this enormous technical roll-out.

When it comes to smart meters energy firms are spending cash they will be able to recoup from consumers. Credit: ITV/Tonight

At least £11 billion will be spent on the new meters - and we, with help from energy campaign The Big Deal, reveal new warnings of a possible further £1bn in potential expenses. The cost of smart meters will eventually be added to our bills - not all at once but staggered over time.

Therefore it is crucial on behalf of consumers that we ask whether this truly is value for money. We also have information that many homes will require more than one visit by installation engineers - meaning days off work and disruption for far more people than the initial plan envisaged.

In the programme I challenge industry claims that smart meters are "free". Their argument is that there is no up-front cost. To me this would be like a restaurant saying its meals are free because it doesn't charge you as soon as you walk in!

There's always been a saying in my family: "It's easy to spend other people's money". When it comes to smart meters energy firms are spending cash they will be able to recoup from consumers. It's worrying that our research could not find any legislation that ensues the industry's projected £8 billion in savings will be passed back to bill- payers.

The filming we did with bill-payers shows a mixed picture, with some saving money thanks to smart meters and others simply getting bored with the devices and allowing them to gather dust. If customers don't use them none of the benefits of behavioural change will happen.

Maybe the industry has underestimated how questioning many households will be. To many people smart meters represent a holy trinity of distrust - energy firms, government regulation and new technology.

The Tonight programme has offered a platform for smart meters' supporters to allay those suspicions - you can judge for yourself how well they do.

  • Tonight - Energy Bills: Can We Be Smarter? will be broadcast on ITV at 7.30pm on Thursday
At least £11 billion will be spent on the new meters. Credit: ITV/Tonight