Rural households could end up paying more for their energy as many don’t have access to the same smart meter technology, new research claims.
Only 34 per cent of rural homes have a smart meter installed compared to 43 per cent of city homes, according to a study by BoilerJuice, a supplier of heating oil.
This can lead to those in rural areas, in some pockets of Britain, paying up to £320 more a year for their energy, data suggests.
Rural areas could be paying more for their energy as they are less likely to access technology
One of the main issues of living in a rural area is there is often poor internet connection, leaving households without the opportunity to have smart technology installed, including smart meters, which could explain why the uptake has not been as high as in city areas.
Another problem is that, as This is Money has revealed, many of the cheapest energy deals are now only available to customers who agree to have a smart meter fitted, suggesting that without them rural homes could be paying more.
Many rural households are also unable to have a smart meter fitted, as they are supplied by heating oil or liquid gas from tanks rather than being on the gas grid.
Individuals and groups of neighbours can face very high costs to get connected to the gas. Albeit, it is possible to compare oil or gas fuel heating prices, as we explain.
‘I’m left out-of-pocket’: Mother unable to have a smart meter fitted
Emma is frustrated at being left out of multiple money-saving schemes
Households in rural areas up and down the country are being left frustrated at their inability to have a smart meter installed.
For many, they believe this leaves them paying more on their energy bills every year as they are unable to keep a close eye on their spending.
Emma Caffyn-Parsons, a mother of three from Devon, said: ‘Having moved to a rural area a couple of years ago, I was surprised how many initiatives I was left out of.
‘As I live so remotely my energy is no longer supplied by the national grid and my home relies on heating oil, which I have to monitor and organise myself.’
Emma is not alone as uptake of energy efficiency schemes like Home Energy Grants, Warm Home Discount and the Winter Fuel Payment appear to lag in rural areas.
A massive 47 per cent of residents reported in the survey that they feel excluded from these initiatives.
Emma added: ‘It’s hugely frustrating to be unable to monitor my energy usage through a smart meter, which ultimately leaves me out of pocket.’
The data also highlighted that many of those who did have a smart meter installed were unhappy with the devices anyway.
Some 19 per cent of rural residents surveyed said they regret it whilst another 24 per cent said they would not recommend having a smart meter installed to others.
The survey of 2,750 people also asked how much they estimate their household monthly energy bill to be.
Villages and hamlets were estimated to pay more than the national average by a few pounds. However, the figure varies greatly depending on the region.
For example, those in urban areas in the West Midlands paid an average of £77.60 a month for their energy bills whilst in rural areas this went up to £104.30 in the same region – a difference of £320.40 a year.
Meanwhile, in the Yorkshire and Humberside, urban households were found to pay £74.80 whilst rural areas spent £80.30 – a difference of just £66 a year.
However, the wide difference in prices could be because many of those in the rural areas rely on heating oil, as opposed to standard energy supply, meaning their bills would be more expensive.
It has been suggested that the gap between the urban and rural areas could close if rural households had access to smart meters, which can help users save money by keeping an eye on their energy bills.
However, even those in rural areas who have managed to have a smart meter fitted have suggested they have been blighted by issues.
The majority of those dissatisfied say it is due to having a ‘dumb’ meter – essentially a first generation (SMETS1) device that loses all functionality after the customer switches supplier.
Switching suppliers, usually to get a cheaper deal, has been made harder for those in rural areas due to accessibility issues for energy firms.
|Urban area- cities or towns||Rural area-villages or hamlets||Overall cost difference (per month)||Overall cost difference (per year)|
|Yorkshire and Humberside||£74.80||£80.30||£5.50||£66|
|East of England||£81||£83.30||£2.30||£27.60|
As a result of the technical issues, the uptake of smart meters in these rural areas seems to be slowing with 37 per cent installed in the last two years ago whilst cities saw 43 per cent installed in just the last year alone.
Robert Cheesewright, of Smart Energy GB, said: ‘The smart meter rollout is a national infrastructure project of unprecedented scale and complexity, which is central to upgrading and decarbonising our energy system.
‘We appreciate some consumers face frustrations with installations but these issues have largely been fixed and further solutions to any outstanding issues are coming.’
There has certainly been an accelerated uptake in towns and cities with more than four million people saying they have had a meter installed in the last 12 months.
But more than six million people living in rural areas still don’t have smart energy technology at all.
Of these, 1.5million are frozen out of the smart meter roll out altogether as they use ‘off grid’ energy sources like heating oil.
Lee Cowles, chief executive of BoilerJuice, said: ‘Rural and small town energy customers feel they are left behind by energy tech and it’s hitting their wallets, with the typical annual bill hitting the thousand pound mark.
‘For heating oil users, the bill is even more painful because they get the bill all in one go and are exposed to spikes in the oil price.’
An average energy bill for heating oil users is now £997 a year but this is heavily affected by the wholesale cost of Brent Crude, which recently spiked due to the recent attacks in Iran.
The smart tech rural households could miss out on
One of the main reasons rural homes could miss out on benefiting from smart technology is that they may have poor internet connection.
Smart energy tech is important as it could help those with it installed save money on their monthly bills.
This is Money has compiled a list of possible smart products they could be missing out on.
1) Smart meter: Smart meters are devices that the government has rolled out in an effort for people to reduce their energy usage, cutting bills and helping the environment.
Whilst there has been some debate about how useful they are, after a series of teething problems has blighted thousands of users, many of those in rural areas who want to make the most of the devices are unable to thanks to their location.
2) Smart thermostat: Smart thermostats allow users to control the temperature of their home remotely, either through an app on their phone or tablet.
This means that households can ensure they are not wasting heating when they are out and can turn it off if they have forgotten to do so when away.
As many of the thermostats functions can be controlled through the internet, for those who have a poor connection, it will be unlikely to be of much use.
3) Smart lightbulbs: Smart lightbulbs can again be controlled via an app or tablet or even through voice control.
Households can control the lights in their home by setting lighting schedules on their phone or getting their lights to turn on and off in a varied pattern, which is useful for when people are away on holiday as it can look like they are still at home, deterring burglars.
But as some of the main benefits come through a smartphone app, which requires a good internet signal, it may be that rural areas would be unable to use these.
4) Electric car charging: Although this is a much more niche need, with the lack of suitable energy supply to rural areas, those with an electric car may have to travel further afield rather than having their own, at home charging station.
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