Monday, 11 May 2009

"Smart" Meters: The monopolistic and Authoritarian mind of the State writ large

It is coming - the "smart" meter.

They will cost £7-10 billion and save the consumer £1bln they say. Already the argument gets dragged into if the consumer should pay or not, just as the ID card argument does*, so let us be frank here - if there is a net cost, the consumer WILL pay one way or another. They will pay by higher charges or charges that rise sooner or fall later.**

It is a sensible thing to have meters that automatically report usage to the supplier. It is about time too. Singapore was doing this when I left in 1999, a decade ago. The fact that we have devices needing to be read manually is a bit quaint. It is a bit like having a man come out to your house for your Road Tax, writing down the registration on the disc.

That aspect is not in question here. What I wish to highlight is the implementation of the additional pieces of kit and how is shows the monopolistic mindset at work, aided and abetted by a Government that only understands monopoly, coercion and Corporatism.

The intended, monopolistic path:

The energy suppliers upgrade the meters as is their want to make their operations more cost effective. Their meters have the ability to communicate with an external monitoring device using an interface that could well be proprietary. Every house will be supplied with an energy monitoring unit, regardless of if the household will pay any attention to it or not. Everyone will have to pay for it. Private companies will have responded to the tender and it is highly likely the energy companies will have signed a contract to a single supplier, or at best a very small subset of providers. The people ultimately paying for it (taxpaying energy consumers) will have no opt-out or freedom to use any alternative device or mechanism instead. At best they will have to pay twice, first for the compulsory unit and then for the unit they will actually use. If you are old enough to remember, think "GPO telephones".

What should happen in a more Libertarian world:

The energy suppliers upgrade the meters as is their want to make their operations more cost effective. Their meters have the ability to communicate with an external monitoring device using an open, fully documented interface. Private companies create dedicated monitoring units, interfaces to PCs (e.g. USB or bluetooth connections) or whatever they wish. New innovations can reach the market as soon as someone can produce it without having to convince the Energy suppliers to alter their purchasing arrangements. All these companies sell their monitoring units via the normal retail outlets creating competition between units and retailers. Cost is kept down. New innovations can appear rapidly. Each individual makes a choice on how much information they wish to see and in the form they wish to consume it. An example of how it can work is the "chip and pin" market. We have many providers all competing on price and functionality for in-store card readers. Imagine if all the banks made it a closed system and you had to take the unit made by the company that "won" the contract...

Make no mistake - most of the "brains" needed will be in the monitoring unit, not the meter itself, which only needs to have the ability to store a timeline of consumption and transmit it when requested. Such an ability will cost pennies.

The pubic is not served with the "business" model we are being presented with, just as we will not be served by up and coming ID card infrastructure, "road pricing" or other such "initiatives" that present a closed system procured centrally.

Yes, ensure standards are in place to prevent captive markets being formed and to promote transparency, but little else is needed. So with Smart Metering, so with ID cards, road pricing gizmos, education, healthcare. The list is endless but the model is roughly the same. Dismantle unnecessary monopolies. Ensure transparency and openness. Remove barriers for a plurality of providers to enter the market and compete for our custom and cash.

While we continue to have the existing LibLabCon "consensus", we will continue to be presented with a conveyor belt of monopolistic fait accompli. Money taken up front. Choice ignored and abuse of a captive market. We need to end this coercion and bring back consent. The only party that is committed to reducing coercion and promoting consent is The Libertarian Party, UK.

* personally I think Labour intends for the ID card to be funded out of general taxation. It "may as well", because the Govt. will end up letting off all those on welfare - and taxpayers have to pay those on welfare the cash to pay for the card in the first place. Why do they have the charge now? Well, one reason could be deeply psychological - making the condemned pay the executioner, a means to ram home the obedience and submission. It is also a convenient way to focus and crystallise dissent on something that will be conceded anyway. Get everyone worked up about the ID card including the charge, let the anger blow and puff, then retreat on something that is not even a true concession (see above how it will make no real difference) and take the wind out of the opposition's sails, so undermining and weakening the campaign. If you had 5million people against ID cards and 2.5m leave the campaign once charges are "dropped"***, that does an enormous amount of damage to the morale vs. a campaign that had and retained 1m supporters because the issue was never about the charge.

** This, I suspect, is not really about "climate change", though some might say it is the main visible pestering force behind it. I actually think that underneath all the posturing about "the environment" the real worry is domestic generating capacity and the ability to keep the lights on. I think energy efficiency is a good thing as it saves money and helps keep wealth inside our domestic economy, as long as it is done with individual choice and consent and does not mutate into a form of bullying by the government, e.g. letters to warn you of changes in or "excessive" usage, nagging alerts from the device itself or other such. Smart metering just opens up a whole new way for people to be pestered, monitored, tracked and controlled. Unless we have a mindset of Minarchism - achieving a small state with the view that the State is either an unnecessary evil unless each aspect can be proven to be a necessary evil - make no mistake, the State will be poised to exploit any new avenue for control and expansion that presents itself.

*** As we know but most people are constantly told not so, even by the very broadcaster who is there for OUR benefit, Joe Public, i.e. you and I, ALWAYS has to pay in the end.


Mark Wadsworth said...

I don't find the exertions involved in opening the little cupboard under the stairs every few months, scribbling two readings down on a pre-printed postcard and popping it in a letter box particularly onerous, and it works for me.

berenike said...

You want to see a super-simple way of keeping data in the hands of its owners while enabling them to share it securely with who(?m)ever they wish or need to? (no financial benefit accrues to me from this, it's just a brilliant idea and I can't understand why it hasn't been snapped up by the NHS, DVLA, Customs and Excise, ... well, I can think of some reasons, but none of them good ones)