While energy providers focus on the technical problems around the UK smart meter rollout, they’re failing to address the underlying reasons smart meters face such resistance.

The context: Smart meters – electronic devices that record energy consumption information – have serious reputational issues.

In the UK, the planned national rollout, which will see energy suppliers offer smart meters to all homes by the end of 2025, has proved very unpopular, mainly because millions of homes were left with faulty meters.

The media debate has been dominated by these technological hurdles, as our analysis of 398 articles published in UK media in the last 12 months found:

And, as many UK consumers are active on X, particularly when they’re unhappy, many have taken to the platform to tag energy suppliers engaged in the rollout and express their frustrations and raise their questions.

Our analysis of 8,934 tweets posted from UK users showed companies such as Octopus Energy, British Gas, EDF, Eon, OVO and Scottish Power were among the most commonly referenced:

And these companies have done a pretty good job of responding to consumers’ queries in the comments section of their posts.

But aren’t they missing something?

The real problem

The situation seems clear: smart meters aren’t popular because of all the technical issues.

However, we think this is just the tip of the iceberg. While companies like Octopus Energy, British Gas and EDF have focused on addressing users’ direct questions, they’ve failed to grasp the whole debate and understand the real reasons smart meters suffer such a bad rep.

Energy players, like many other brands, usually engage in social media conversations when someone tags them and tend to miss the bigger picture.

That’s where human-enriched social media analytics solutions come into play.

For instance, our analysis showed what’s driving consumer resistance goes well beyond technical glitches.

Here’s what this means and how energy companies can refocus their comms strategies:

1. Privacy and surveillance

Twitter users express concerns about data privacy, fearing that smart meters could be used to build detailed profiles of their habits and preferences, potentially leading to targeted advertising or security risks. Some users also worry that smart meters might enable government surveillance, likening their use to measures seen in authoritarian regimes.

Communication angle: Energy companies should emphasise that smart meters are designed to collect only necessary energy consumption data, ensuring transparency about data usage and providing clear opt-out options for data sharing. Highlight robust data protection measures and compliance with privacy regulations to reassure consumers.

2. Health concerns and electromagnetic fields (EMF)

There are widespread fears about the health effects of EMF emitted by smart meters, with some users reporting symptoms like headaches and sleep disturbances, and concerns about long-term exposure leading to serious health issues.

Communication angle: Provide evidence-based information showing that EMF emissions from smart meters are well below safety limits set by regulatory bodies. Compare EMF levels from smart meters to those of everyday devices like mobile phones and Wi-Fi routers, emphasising that smart meters undergo rigorous testing to ensure safety.

3. Cost efficiency

Users frequently debate the cost-effectiveness of smart meters, with some highlighting the high initial installation costs and others sharing experiences of increased bills due to inaccurate readings or being switched to more expensive tariffs.

Communication angle: Provide clear information on how smart meters can lead to long-term cost savings through accurate billing and better energy usage insights. Address concerns about tariff changes by explaining the benefits of different pricing structures and offering support to optimise energy use for cost savings.

4. Remote disconnection and security

Concerns are often raised about the potential for remote disconnection of electricity, either through hacking or misuse by energy companies, which could leave consumers vulnerable to blackouts and unauthorised control over their power supply.

Communication angle: Highlight the advanced security measures in place to protect smart meters from cyber threats, such as encryption and strict access protocols. Assure customers that remote disconnection is a last resort used only in cases of non-payment, following strict regulatory guidelines.

5. Environmental considerations

Critics argue that replacing traditional meters with smart meters generates significant e-waste, contributing to environmental harm. There are also concerns about the carbon footprint of producing and deploying smart meters.

Communication angle: Emphasise the long-term environmental benefits of smart meters, such as improved energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions due to better energy management. Discuss recycling programs and efforts to minimise e-waste, showcasing the overall positive environmental impact.