Only a tiny fraction of the roughly one million electricity consumers have smart meters that they use as intended.
More than 930,000 smart meters have been installed in homes and small businesses under a €1.2 billion scheme over the past three years.
Another 10,000 are installed each week with a goal of reaching 2.4 million in 2024.
But only 37,900 customers, 4% of the current total, activated their counters and registered them for the “time of use” or “smart” tariff that was designed to facilitate.
Smart meters are intended to monitor and record electricity usage throughout the day.
This would help people choose smart, money-saving tariffs that best suit their needs.
The country is also supposed to benefit from smart tariffs that incentivize people to delay the use of non-essential electricity until off-peak times. That would avoid a massive surge in demand that strains supply every evening, raising fears of blackouts.
It will also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions as peak demand must be met by operating backup power plants that burn fossil fuels such as oil.
But electricity suppliers fail to explain the smart meter plan to customers, give them enough information to make informed decisions or offer deals attractive enough to make the switch to smart tariffs worthwhile. Now the power regulator is directing suppliers to inject urgency into the scheme.
“We are challenging suppliers to up their game in terms of their offerings and customer outreach,” a CRU spokesperson said.
“The smart meter could just sit on your wall and not do anything. The data just sits there doing nothing.
“People need more participation and that’s the point of the campaign.”
ESB Networks, which is responsible for the meters, is now developing a customer data portal to provide people with real-time information about their electricity usage.
The portal, to be connected online and in an application, will be for use by all customers whether or not they have a smart meter.
“This will provide customers with independent online access to their consumption data,” the environment ministry said.
This would allow customers to “evaluate opportunities to reduce their use or shift their use beyond peak periods, which can reduce their carbon footprint and potentially save them money.”
Saving money will be a major incentive to activate smart meters and switch to time-of-use tariffs.
Early trials showed that customers reduced prime time use by 8%.
However, CRU acknowledged that the deals offered so far have not been convincing. There is also a general concern that they will end up paying exorbitant fees for prime time usage which will not be compensated for by the low off-peak rates.
CRU said much of the pressure on suppliers to deliver good deals has to come from customer demand.
Price comparison sites bonkers.ie, switcher.ie, and powertoswitch.ie have a CRU certification that certifies the algorithms they use to calculate the comparisons.
“If your supplier does not offer you a competitive time-of-use tariff with your smart meter, you should look for another supplier that does,” the spokesperson said.
“The competition in the market will put downward pressure on tariffs.”
Data protection experts have expressed concern about the amount of information being collected by smart meters.
They say the meters, once activated, track and record people’s activities and movements around the clock through their energy use.
The environment ministry said a code has been put in place to access smart meter data “to standardize matters such as third party access to customer meter data.”
ESB Networks said that customers did not object to the installation of the meters due to data protection issues in any significant numbers.
“The vast majority of customers contacted had a smart meter installed,” she said.