A Requiem For Meters

Smart Energy GB are the organisation campaigning for the roll-out of smart energy meters in the UK. Publicizing smart meters and making traditional electricity and gas meters look obsolete is part of their mission, and towards the end of last year they came up with a novel idea. “Requiem for Meters”, is a piece of orchestral music performed on instruments made from old gas and electricity meters, and recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London.

The old meters serve as much as artworks in some of the instruments as they do a function. As far as we can see for example the gas meter violins are electric instruments rather than acoustic, the meter serving only as the physical body of the instrument rather than as an acoustic cavity in the way the body of a traditional violin does. The wind instruments seem to incorporate the cavity of a gas meter in their construction though and the percussive instruments are very much dependent on the properties of the meters themselves, though we’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether the resulting sound is one you’d want regularly on your hi-fi.

The video below the break shows some of the background to the piece, though sadly not as much instrument building detail as we’d like.

It’s worth mentioning that UK smart meters have come in for their share of criticism, and not just for the project’s huge cost. There are privacy concerns surrounding the amount of information about individuals that could be gleaned from the data they collect, as well as security issues concerning the potential for vulnerabilities in internet-connected electronic devices with control over high-power appliances fitted to millions of homes.

We’ve covered smart meters plenty of times before here on Hackaday, most recently a community-driven smart meter project in a Parisian suburb. We haven’t covered a gas meter orchestra before though, but these instruments made from firearms come close. Or how about these instruments made from ice?

Thanks [adnbr] for the tip.


39 thoughts on “A Requiem For Meters

    1. I dont have a meter, my solar powered house gives me power all for the cost of installation. Screw the power companys that wanted 80k to run 1 mile of power lines out here.

      1. Fine then. Let them charge you the highest rates so their costs are covered, regardless how much you really use, so you can subsidize your neighbors who are more thoughtful.

        1. I think it’s incredibly unlikely there will be any situation where a smart meter gets installed and your power bill goes down. You think someone pitched a business plan that included massive investment in new meters so they could make less money? It’s not like power companies are trying to attract customers.

          1. Most likely your bill will go up unless you somehow do most of your high amp use during off peak hours.
            It might be possible to put water heaters on timers and super insulate them but air conditioning you’d have to do something like freeze ice during off peak hours and then use that for cooling.
            Possible but it would be very bulky when you realize the reason why ACs are measured in tons is that’s equal to how much ice their btu capacity over 24 hour period is equal to.

          2. You do understand that in most cases in North America, most consumers were chronically undercharged because rather than send out people to read the meters every month, utilities were estimating usage and low-balling to avoid trouble.

  1. I had a guy out to change my meter from imperial to metric. I asked him if I could keep the meter and he said no way he wasn’t allowed it had to be securely destroyed.
    I doubt this is going to change anyone’s mind about smart meters.

  2. In France, old meters could be hacked with a big neodynium magnet in front of the wheel counter.
    They are a bit rare but they still exists. Good for you if your meter are inside your flat….SAY NO MORE !!!!!!! SAY NO MOOOOORE !!!!

  3. “UK smart meters have come in for their share of criticism”

    The criticism in the article is mostly misguided. First of all, a lot of electricity use is inflexible and cannot follow the price signal, which makes the cost go up. Meanwhile, the lag in the system regarding flexible demand is at a danger of running into oscillations because of the supply-demand lag inherent to the system. The unpredictability of the price fluctuations means that people have to set up some sort of automated system to manage e.g. their water heater, and unless you carefully tune them in concert with the power companies, it can lead to chaotic swings and even blackouts on the grid.

    Indeed the major point of the smart meter is that you don’t need to have a man driving around in a van, getting into your home every month simply to write down a number in a form. Of course the smart meter rollout for £11 billion to pull it off so quickly is not exactly smart, but it will be inevitable eventually anyways – whether you do it in one crash or slowly area per time.

    1. Especially this attitude:

      “All of their efforts to get to you to reduce energy use through meters or through insulating your home, will take longer, cost more and be less effective than fixing energy supply.””

      That’s incredible. Has it not occurred to them that you can’t “fix the energy supply” that easily? UK homes are so poorly insulated in the first place that they use about five times more gas than electricity on average, kWh for kWh. Trying to get rid of fossil fuels is downright impossible without reduction in energy use in general – it’s not just about guilt-tripping people so the industry wouldn’t need to innovate – it’s very very difficult to make enough energy out of renewables to substitute fossil fuels 1:1 because you run out of land and essential metals/resources to do so.

      1. Fix the planning laws and force the large house builders to offer up individual plots to people would be a good start. Do I want to live in a 3 storey town house where I can reach out the window and touch my neighbour’s house, but it’s classed as detached and thus demands more money ? Not really.
        I want to build an eco house. But it’s near impossible to find land in places you want to be. So people (with money) resort to buying houses, knocking them down and starting over. Thus driving up prices.

        House builders are for profit. They cut corners left and right. I’ve seen it first hand working for some.
        The housing market in the UK is completely false. Supply and demand is manipulated to keep the prices high and discouraging investment. Kudos to those managing to work something out in this environment.

    2. We never, ever, have blackouts in the UK. Maybe the investment from when electricity was nationally owned, means the infrastructure hasn’t worn out yet. Private companies of that nature tend to under-invest in maintenance. The railways certainly have. There’s occasional power cuts for maintenance, but I can’t remember the last one, maybe a few hours per decade.

      The old immersion heaters for water are a bad idea, heating water as it’s used, instantly, is better. And electric storage heaters are bloody useless. The place is baking hot at 4 in the morning, come 10am it’s freezing again.

      The UK’s housing stock is still mostly old Victorian houses, and yep they’re often badly insulated, crappy windows, etc. There are subsidies for getting your home insulated, but I think it’s too much of a hassle for a lot of people.

      Most of the new power stations in the UK, over the last few decades, have been gas fired, and they can start up and shut down in minutes, so we have some flexibility. There’s still a fair amount of wastage though. I don’t think keeping CO2 in massive underground caverns is going to turn out to be practical at all.

      Some of us are quite proud of Dinorwig in Wales though, 2 gigantic lakes with a hydro power station in the middle. At night, it uses cheap power to pump water from the lower lake to the higher one, then during peak demand, runs the other way. Pays for itself from the difference between rates. There’s probably a lot of hilly places with lakes, in the North of England, Scotland, and Wales. We could do with a few more.

      1. “The old immersion heaters for water are a bad idea, heating water as it’s used, instantly, is better. And electric storage heaters are bloody useless. The place is baking hot at 4 in the morning, come 10am it’s freezing again.”

        Yet the exact opposite is actually true. Storage boilers are essential in even trying to make use of energy sources like wind power, because they’re the only practical way to capture that energy and spread it over days of use. They’re pretty much the only affordable “battery” that’s available for the purpose. Instant boilers make the price swing problem worse, because they can take massive amounts of instant power – tens of kilowatts – to run, and the local distribution can’t often handle that if everyone’s got them.

        The system needs some refinement though. There’s plenty of experience in other countries with proper insulated boiler systems that operate at 98% efficiency in terms of heat loss, so the output of heat is controllable over time rather than hot in the morning cold in the afternoon.

        1. Insulated boiler systems are one appliance where transparent demand management can be controlled. We lived with a system like this for several years and never noticed it, yet the utility was able to flatten power demand both for domestic hot water and the hydronic space heating throughout the day. And this was in Ontario, Canada, with winters typical to that place.

        2. Yeah, I suppose with renewables, water tank heaters make sense. Most power still comes from fossil fuels though.

          Another way of storing heat, is in the air. I wonder if some sort of smart household heating computer would be good. It could compare the temperature you wanted, with the energy available, it’s current price, and how much you’re willing to pay. Might be a bit of a bugger for your grandmother to program, it’d probably need a few smarts.

          That said, I don’t think allowing the grid to fluctuate so much would ever be practical.

          And electric storage heaters are still shit!

      2. “Some of us are quite proud of Dinorwig in Wales though”

        The total energy capacity of Dinorwig is about 9 GWh which is good for about 15 minutes on the grid if everything else goes down. That’s a good comparison metric for energy storage systems – minutes on the grid.

        Think for example, if you’ve got a 10% slump in power supply because it’s not windy enough. That means Dinorwig can run the system for 10 x 15 minutes = 2.5 hours. It becomes immediately apparent that we need many many Dinorwigs to run a renewable energy grid that gets the majority of its power from sources like wind or solar.

        A good start would be a day on the grid, or about 100 Dinorwig stations. That’s the scale of the energy storage problem.

        1. For a point of reference, the pan-european gas grid holds about 3 months of supply with typical demand. That’s in great deal due to the large volume of the pipes themselves, and there are numerous gas bells along the way and LNG tanks at ports etc. The estimated energy capacity is between 200-300 TWh which is somewhere around 28,000 Dinorwig pumping powerplants.

          To replace that in terms of energy security with pumped hydro, you will run out of hills to carve out.

        2. The entire UK grid, for 15 minutes? That’s an amazing amount of power! Dinorwig is just intended to smooth demand out somewhat, it’s not a national UPS.

          As others have mentioned, the unreliability of some renewables means we could do with more storage to even out demand. I dunno what, maybe flywheels? Compressed air? If Dinorwig can make a profit, I’m surprised nobody’s investing in the demand-smoothing industry. You don’t have to have lakes, and even if you do, you could surely take somewhere quite lakey and run some pipes. Are we waiting for a breakthrough? I don’t think it’ll be chemical batteries, pretty sure that, for the price, and the enormous capacity needed, it’d have to be something mechanical.

      3. It has has blackouts, not due to the national grid as you say, but when the miners were on strike in the 70’s… my school was pretty dark.., and pretty cold. Lots of those ‘sentinal’ brand candles for light,

        1. The UK grid is pretty robust, but not immune to supply variations.

          They’re already paying millions of pounds a year to wind power producers to keep the turbines offline at certain times, because it would break the grid. Similiarily, they’re paying millions to run gas powered diesel engines and turbines whenever the wind power suddenly goes out.

          “Wind farms have been paid a record £43 million to switch off turbines so far this year”

          It’s just getting worse every year because the grid is too small to absorb the energy. That’s the point of the smart meters – at times the power will be so cheap it’s simply given away, and at others it’s going to be so expensive you have to pay in kidneys for it.

          That’s already a reality in the nordic grid, Denmark-Norway-Sweden, where power prices regularily swing negative for the local distributors – meaning that they get paid for stuffing the power somewhere so the wind energy producers can make more kilowatt-hours and get paid government subsidies for them. In the UK, as The Telegraph points out, they can’t so they get paid by the government to shutter the turbines.

          1. Problem being that wind energy comes in short intense bursts – steady slow winds don’t turn the turbines very strongly because they’re optimized for a peak 12 m/s winds to maximize energy output.

            That creates curious effects, such as in Germany where the greens claim that there isn’t a power shortage on the grid because Germany is a net exporter of energy. Of course they are, because any time they get wind power or solar power, it’s too much for the grid to absorb, and whenever they don’t everyone’s scrambling to turn on more coal power – except all the conventional powerplants have been driven off the market by the low market prices caused by dumping renewable energy on the grid – it doesn’t pay to keep them online and ready.

            As a result, one out of six companies in Germany are actually producing their own heat and electricity, out of gas.

        2. I heard that there was actually plenty of coal above ground, during the strikes. For a while, the public had a lot of sympathy with the miners, who had a terrible, dangerous job. Apparently Ted Heath ordered the power cuts to turn public opinion, and blamed it on the miners. Worked pretty well. Then his mate Thatcher came along…

          That’s when Heath wasn’t busy in the organised raping of children, as recent police investigations have uncovered. Nice guy.

      4. “2 gigantic lakes with a hydro power station in the middle. At night, it uses cheap power to pump water from the lower lake to the higher one, then during peak demand, runs the other way. ”

        Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state (USA) has a similar system.

  4. With regards to the full length piece;
    The instrumental is overblown, dwelling on the shrill violins and droning cello in an orchestration that is more full of gas than your meter. There is almost no respect for the inspiring creations; automata which quietly tick, spin, of pulse their ways quietly in the dark for years or decades without failure.
    The imagery is uninspiring, with the aforementioned moaning overlying a simple montage of about five perfectly serviceable meters. The height of the visuals, a lone spider climbing upon release, bears no temporal relation to the cadence of the tune, and the crescendo when it comes is unnoticed by the visual editor.
    The most interesting part of the production, the instruments at Abbey Road are relegated to a “behind the scenes” short, with almost no exposition of the source material, and often ludicrous integration of dead metal boxes – ripped untimely from their quiet observance of the passing coulomb or pressurised hydrocarbon – instead serve to foster incredulity.
    The message is mixed; why a requiem; a sorrowful tune; should we be mourning the passage of these unloved stalwarts of progress? Should we be outraged by the fourth red sounds carved from their discarded carcasses, now forced into grotesque mockeries of instruments?

    The only reasonable response is to donate to save-a-meter, where every penny donated goes to paying retired metermen to service refurbished meters in a Art Deco factory renovated into a chic downtown London gastropub where the executive of the power oligarchies can sip dry gin with a sliver of reclaimed silver at the expense of the public.


  5. I feel no remorse blocking everything I can block.
    I will only reconsider it when industry finally accept and respect that this is MY Computer and my (privacy) focused attention. They should behave as my GUESTS and not as stealthy voyeurs, predators, leeches, parasites, or Vandals on a looting campaign.

    Ads Surreptitiously Using Sound to Communicate Across Devices
    This is creepy and disturbing:

    Privacy advocates are warning federal authorities of a new threat that uses inaudible, high-frequency sounds to surreptitiously track a person’s online behavior across a range of devices, including phones, TVs, tablets, and computers.

    The ultrasonic pitches are embedded into TV commercials or are played when a user encounters an ad displayed in a computer browser. While the sound can’t be heard by the human ear, nearby tablets and smartphones can detect it. When they do, browser cookies can now pair a single user to multiple devices and keep track of what TV commercials the person sees, how long the person watches the ads, and whether the person acts on the ads by doing a Web search or buying a product.

    1. I saw an article that the EU is now going after G**gle for only letting certain cell phone companies use G^^gle Play store on their phones. Sort of like when the EEC went after Micr*S*ft during the 1990’s.

  6. If something is forced it should be questioned.
    I do not see much advantage to a smart meter except on their end so they can charge more for high current peak loads and so they can charge a higher price for electricity used during the day vs night.

  7. Smart Meters
    They are monitored through internet. Communication is made through electricity network.
    And the communication is bi-directional.
    What does this mean?
    The Company can ARTIFICIALLY INCREASE THE VALUE OF CONSUMED ENERGY of a certain meter/group of meters by some mouse clicks. The LCD display on those meters will show a new number, greater than the previous.
    And this is how they can artificially increase their budget from our pockets.
    It has a microcontroller, it has some communication protocol (tcp/ip), it is possible to do that. I would do that if I was big boss of some electricity company.
    Of course they deny that.

  8. The uk goverment are rolling out smart meters nationaly as of this year full stop all in the name of lowering energy use.
    I’m one of the poor guys that have to come round your house and read your “dumb” meter and i can tell with absolute fact that they do reduce energy use for the first few months untill the monitor computer is shoved in a cupboard or draw and forgotten about

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