Digital electricity meters are to become the standard in German households. In combination with variable electricity tariffs, this could enable households to control their electricity consumption and save money. The Bundestag decided on new specifications for the devices and their use as well as a timetable for further distribution on Thursday with the votes of the traffic light parliamentary groups SPD, Greens and FDP as well as the CDU/CSU. AfD and Linke voted against it.

What consumers get out of it

Digital electricity meters – also known as smart meters or intelligent electricity meters – are networked measuring devices for heat or electricity that automatically transmit consumption to the provider and also make it visible to consumers. “How much electricity does which device consume, at what times of the day is consumption the highest and where is the greatest potential for savings?”, Bernhard Rohleder, Managing Director of the digital association Bitkom, listed. “Smart meters will give people massive support in saving energy. In the future, it will then be possible to read off one’s own consumption using a smartphone app, for example, just as easily as the fuel consumption of a car or the charge level of a mobile phone.”

The new meters can also register when electricity is fed into the grid, which is important for owners of solar systems on the roof or balcony.

Dynamic electricity tariffs

The importance of renewable energies will continue to grow, by 2030 at least 80 percent of gross electricity consumption in Germany should be covered by renewable energies. However, the production of wind turbines and solar systems fluctuates with the weather. From 2025, all electricity suppliers will have to offer dynamic tariffs in which the electricity price increases or decreases depending on the offer. At present, this obligation only applies to large suppliers.

With a greater spread of climate-friendly technologies such as heat pumps and electric cars, electricity consumption will also increase more, making efficient use more important. Dynamic tariffs are intended to create incentives to do laundry or charge electric cars when there is a lot of electricity and the price is cheap. In the future, consumers could control this via an app. Targeted consumption will help stabilize the electricity system as a whole, said Green MP Ingrid Nestle.

The costs

In the future, private individuals and small consumers should not have to pay more than 20 euros per year for an intelligent electricity meter. For households with controllable consumption devices such as heat pumps, it should be 50 euros per year. The Federal Consumer Association (vzbv) welcomed this. “This enables consumers to save more money with a built-in intelligent metering system than they have to pay for the fees incurred by the metering points,” explained Thomas Engelke, head of the Energy and Building team. However, these upper limits would have to remain stable in the long term.

The German Tenants’ Association made a similar statement. If a new meter cabinet is required during installation, landlords would have to bear these costs and should not pass them on to tenants. “In addition, all requirements for data protection and data security must be guaranteed by tenants.”

The data protection

Representatives of the AfD warned against state control of electricity consumption, MP Marc Bernhard warned that citizens could be monitored. Traffic light deputies assured that data protection would be maintained and even improved. The principle of data economy applies, said FDP politician Michael Kruse. “We don’t want a data Stasi.”

CDU MP Thomas Jarzombek said of warnings that there could be shutdowns: “That’s total nonsense.” Robin Mesarosch from the SPD emphasized using the example of electric cars: “Everyone retains control. You can always charge if you want to, of course. But you can also benefit from your intelligent measuring system, which gives you tips when you can save money can.”

The timetable

The government and Bundestag want to spread the devices more quickly, which is why a timetable for further distribution, the so-called rollout, was decided. One hurdle is to be removed: Up to now, the installation of intelligent meters was only permitted if at least three companies offered devices at the development stage in question. In view of the growing range of devices, this is now considered dispensable, so it will soon be easier to install more devices, even if some functions will only come later via updates.

There are two stages for the further installation of intelligent electricity meters. From 2025, households with an annual consumption of 6,000 to 100,000 kilowatt hours of electricity are entitled to have a digital meter installed within four months if they are interested. The same applies to households with an installed power generation capacity of between 7 and 100 kilowatts.

From 2028 there will be an obligation to install it in households with an annual consumption of more than 100,000 kilowatt hours or generators with an installed power output of 100 kilowatts or more.