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Energy customers in Flanders must switch over to digital readers faster

09:25 21/06/2022

Flanders is going through with its 2019 plan to roll out digital energy meters in homes across the region, but has now shortened the deadline for switching by five years.

Previously, customers had 15 years to change over to the new meters. But following an acceleration of the plan by Flemish environment minister Zuhal Demir, 80% of users must have a digital meter in their home by the end of 2024. 

Those who fail to respond to letters, emails and phone calls attempting to schedule the switch may find themselves visited in person by employees contracted to work with grid manager Fluvius. 

“It's true that these employees sometimes ring the doorbell of the customers,” Fluvius spokesperson Björn Verdoodt told Le Soir, adding that “only 1 percent of all users actively refuse the installation.”

Nevertheless, one fifth of Flemish customers with an appointment to have their meter switched “suddenly” turn out to not be home that day. 

“But that should not be seen as an active refusal,” Verdoodt said. “We also see these figures, for example, in the adaptation to the gas network. It is a general fact.”

In total, 6.1 million analog meters still need to be replaced in Flanders. Fluvius is currently nearing the 1.7 million mark for digital meters, which amounts to just under 30% of the total, meaning there’s quite a way to go.

Fear of rising bills with digital meter

In terms of what holds energy customers back from making the transition, some fear the capacity charge smart meters will be able to implement. Pressure on the grid system from excessive simultaneous use means that in the future, higher rates for peak times will apply. 

A digital meter can calculate these peaks exactly, resulting in higher bills, but analog meters don’t have that capability. Those who outright refuse a digital meter will have to pay a fixed contribution towards peak times in the future, but it isn’t yet known how high this will be. Some people refusing the digital meters are counting on that fixed contribution being lower than what they would end up paying with a smart meter. 

There are also complications with the switch when it comes to owners of solar panels: with a smart meter, homeowners are paid for any excess energy generated but the profit margin is lower than what they recoup using an analog meter. 

Those who have solar panels are allowed to refuse to switch to a digital meter until 1 January, 2025 if they meet certain conditions, but the exception applies only to those who had solar panels installed before the end of 2020. 

Anyone who does not fall under an exemption cannot legally refuse the installation of a digital meter, but there are no consequences to such a refusal for the time being, which seems to be exacerbating the number of people choosing to drag their feet when it comes to implementing the legislation.

Photo: Fluvius

Written by Helen Lyons