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Will your smart gas meter suddenly die at Christmas?

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will your smart gas meter suddenly dieat christmas

Millions of homes that use ‘smart’ meters to monitor their gas supply could get cut off without warning this winter. This is part of the problems that have plagued smart meters since their rollout began just over a decade ago. 

So far, about 19million homes have had meters installed – though up to 14million have so-called first generation devices that can sometimes go ‘dumb’ and only work like a traditional meter if you switch supplier. 

While electric smart meters are wired into the National Grid, the gas ones are powered by batteries designed to last for at least a decade. This means thousands of batteries could fail in the coming months. Once the gadget dies, the gas supply in some cases is automatically turned off and an engineer has to replace the battery unit before the supply is reconnected. 

'Fiasco': The smart meter rollout has been plagued with problems. Now gas meters may even cut off supplies

‘Fiasco’: The smart meter rollout has been plagued with problems. Now gas meters may even cut off supplies

Retired aircraft controller Derek King has suffered the inconvenience of his gas smart meter dying, leaving him temporarily without gas. He only discovered the smart meter had stopped working when his heating did not come on as normal. 

The married 73-year-old, from Rushden in Northamptonshire, says: ‘I cannot believe there was no fail-safe mechanism. When the meter died, the gas suddenly just cut off without any warning. It could have happened on Christmas Day with a turkey in the oven, or to someone more vulnerable than myself, maybe living alone.’ 

Derek called local gas pipe supplier Transco on the recommendation of a boiler mechanic he had spoken to who thought the problem with his gas supply was a result of an external gas leak. But the Transco engineer soon identified the problem as a ‘dead’ smart meter. He replaced it for free with an old-fashioned meter not requiring batteries. It meant Derek was without gas for a day. 

Experts say that as many as 11million devices are vulnerable to failure in the next few years. 

Alex Henney is a former Government adviser who worked with former Secretary of State for Energy, Cecil Parkinson, in the late 1980s on energy privatisation. He says: ‘Potentially leaving people stranded with no gas in the middle of winter is an indication of the incompetent way this entire installation programme has been run. It should be halted immediately. We should have waited for all smart meter technology to be fully tested before being imposed on the nation.’ 

He adds: ‘This whole smart energy meter fiasco is a huge waste of money that hits the poor people hardest – as the bill for this ridiculous project is paid for by homes through higher energy bills.’ 

The smart meter project has so far cost £13.5billion with more than £220million being spent on marketing to encourage everyone to accept a smart meter. Smart Energy GB, the organisation overseeing the rollout, says gas smart meters use lithium ion batteries and should have at least a ten-year life span. It admits that during the rollout of the early smart meters – known as ‘Smets 1’ units – it was down to individual suppliers as to whether gas would be turned off or left on when a battery failed. 

But it says all equipment should send out a so-called ‘dying breath’ signal when a battery is running low to alert the energy firm to send out an engineer to replace it. A Smart Energy GB spokesman says: ‘A battery failure should be a very rare occurrence as the battery fitted to a smart meter is expected to have an average lifespan of 15 years. When a battery charge becomes low, suppliers are able to arrange for an engineer to fit a replacement before it runs out.’ 

Gordon Hughes is professor of economics at the University of Edinburgh and a former senior adviser on energy and environmental policy at the World Bank. He says: ‘When the early smart gas meters were rushed out, many experts felt the batteries would last longer than the meters. The gas supply would have been designed to turn off when the battery died, as companies were concerned fraudsters might take advantage of the situation – and get gas for free.’ 

On Friday, British Gas said its older meters are ‘fully compliant with BEIS [Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy] specifications’ and that they should ‘continue to supply gas should the battery ever fail’. At that stage, it would receive an ‘automated warning’ that the battery had failed. 

Npower insisted ‘the gas valve does not change when a battery is depleted’ – in other words the gas does not turn off. Eon said that when a gas meter battery starts to lose its power, it is ‘informed as part of the remote communication that takes place between the meter and our systems’. 

Dying gas smart meters are the latest problem to beset the rollout of the devices. The £13.5billion project started in 2009 and all homes were meant to have a smart meter installed by this year – enabling energy suppliers to remotely read how much power is used. 

But it is currently running four years late. It had originally been intended to have been completed this year – with gas and electricity smart meters put in all 27million homes. Claims that smart meters cut energy bills have been criticised as misleading. Although smart meters allow a device to be installed so that energy use can be monitored, the only way the new technology helps consumers save money is if it encourages them to change their usage habits. The verdict on this remains open.

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GSK gears up for trials as it pushes ahead with three possible Covid-19 vaccines

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gsk gears up for trials as it pushes ahead with three possible covid 19 vaccines

Glaxosmithkline said it was pushing forward in the battle against Covid-19 as it lined up trials of several potential breakthrough medicines. 

The British drugs group is working on three possible vaccines for the deadly virus with partners, as well as two antibody treatments. 

It is also shipping record amounts of flu jabs as governments try to stop a double-whammy of diseases from overwhelming hospitals this winter. 

Glaxosmithkline said it was pushing forward in the battle against Covid-19 as it lined up trials of several potential breakthrough medicines

Glaxosmithkline said it was pushing forward in the battle against Covid-19 as it lined up trials of several potential breakthrough medicines

Glaxosmithkline said it was pushing forward in the battle against Covid-19 as it lined up trials of several potential breakthrough medicines

Despite strong demand for its established flu vaccines, however, GSK warned that the pandemic continued to disrupt other parts of its business as patients ventured out of their homes less often. 

But the company said it would still pay out a dividend, which is expected to total 80p per share for the full year. GSK boss Emma Walmsley said: ‘We have delivered a strong commercial response to the disruption caused by the pandemic. 

‘We have one of the most wide-ranging responses of the pandemic, with three different vaccines and two antibody therapies all in clinical trials. 

‘Our vaccines are progressing and, if there are positive results, we could have three vaccines in late-stage development by the end of the year.’ 

GSK has partnered with Sanofi, Medicago and Clover Pharmaceuticals to develop potential Covid-19 vaccines. It is also working with Vir Biotechnology on an antibody test for patients with the virus, as well as its own in-house antibody drug known as otilimab. 

GSK boss Emma Walmsley

GSK boss Emma Walmsley

GSK boss Emma Walmsley

Walmsley said ‘pivotal’ data on the Vir treatment was expected by the end of 2020, while readouts on otilimab are expected in the first half of next year. GSK provided a third quarter update to investors, revealing that revenues had fallen 8pc to £8.6 billion and profits by 14pc to £1.7 billion. 

Glaxo and development partner Sanofi also pledged 200 million doses of its potential Covid-19 vaccine to the Covax scheme, which aims to distribute 2 billion doses globally and is backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

Covax aims to discourage governments from hoarding vaccine supplies and will focus instead on vaccinating the most high-risk people first in every country. 

Sanofi and GSK signed a £1.6 billion deal with the US during the summer to supply it with more than 100m doses of their vaccine candidate, and have agreed similar deals with the UK, EU and Canada. 

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Pub boss William Lees-Jones warns family firm faces biggest crisis for two centuries

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pub boss william lees jones warns family firm faces biggest crisis for two centuries
Scrapheap: Lees-Jones says kneejerk reactions from our politicians are crippling the industry

Scrapheap: Lees-Jones says kneejerk reactions from our politicians are crippling the industry

Scrapheap: Lees-Jones says kneejerk reactions from our politicians are crippling the industry

The boss of a 192-year-old pub group has launched an attack on the ‘knee-jerk’ coronavirus restrictions that has forced him to shut half of his estate. 

William Lees-Jones said businesses are being ‘thrown on the scrapheap’ by the measures – and that one of his suppliers has already gone bust. 

The 56-year-old took over JW Lees in 2004 – making him the sixth generation of his family to run the business. He employs 1,250 – including 150 at its brewery in Middleton, Greater Manchester, and 1,100 in its 42 pubs and hotels across the North West and North Wales. 

Many more are employed in 105 pubs the company leases to landlords. Half his pubs are shut, and sales at the remaining venues are more than 50 per cent down. 

Lees-Jones said his business is suffering more than at any other time, including both world wars, adding that the firm is in ‘survival mode’ and that he hopes he is not ‘the generation that has to turn the lights off’. 

The intervention comes as more than 50 northern Conservative MPs are demanding Prime Minister Boris Johnson lay out an exit strategy for businesses and communities under Tier Two and Three restrictions.

Tomorrow, Nottinghamshire will join Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire in the harshest Tier Three restrictions, and ministers are under pressure to institute a nationwide ‘circuitbreaker’ lockdown or harsher Tier Four measures. 

Wales, where JW Lees has five pubs, is in a two-week ‘firebreaker’ lockdown. The North East and London are in Tier Two, leading many to accuse the Government of implementing a national lockdown by stealth. 

Lees-Jones said: ‘We’ve done a good job in the industry to make things safe but the impact of the restrictions on our pubs is enormous. It is probably the toughest period the business has ever been through. We’ve effectively been in Tier Two in Greater Manchester since the end of July.’ 

It cost up to £160,000 to make the pubs Covid-secure, including spending on hand sanitiser, perspex, new pub layouts and masks. One central Manchester venue, the Rain Bar, had only been open for four weeks when the highest Tier Three restrictions were brought in.

This year JW Lees will make a loss. It made a £1 million profit in the year to March 2020 – which included two weeks of closure from the first lockdown – down from a £6.8 million profit in the year to March 2019. 

Lees-Jones added: ‘Politicians are looking at the data and the statistics and making knee-jerk reactions about what it is we’re going to do. And then the difficulty is you can start a lockdown and they say ‘now we need to extend it’. Two weeks become three , becomes four. 

Businesses like Lees-Jones's are pinning their hopes on December celebrations giving them a cash injection but with yet more regions heading into lockdown, optimism is in short supply

Businesses like Lees-Jones's are pinning their hopes on December celebrations giving them a cash injection but with yet more regions heading into lockdown, optimism is in short supply

Businesses like Lees-Jones’s are pinning their hopes on December celebrations giving them a cash injection but with yet more regions heading into lockdown, optimism is in short supply

‘Further lockdown restrictions will destroy our business in the short term. A lot of our teams in Tier Three are saying they would be better off closed. 

‘The political group-think is terrifying because it is strangling the economy. All that lockdown can achieve is delay and suppress infection but it’s not a solution.’ 

Although pubs and other hospitality businesses are on the front line, it is the support crew who are the first casualties. Many breweries, who do not have their own pubs, have nowhere to sell their beer as bars reduce their range to cut costs. 

An army of small and mediumsized firms supplying detergents, glassware, meat, vegetables and wine are also suffering. JW Lees’s kitchen fitters have already gone bust during the pandemic. 

The political group-think is terrifying because it is strangling the economy. All that lockdown can achieve is delay and suppress infection but it’s not a solution

‘They are being thrown on the scrapheap,’ Lees-Jones said. ‘They’re not getting any support.’ 

The business was founded in 1828 by retired cotton manufacturer John Lees. Lees-Jones’s father Richard, who joined the business in 1953 after serving with the 42nd Field Regiment in Germany, remains chairman. 

‘I have an 87-year-old father we are protecting and one of my twin daughters has Covid, another is isolating,’ he said. 

‘But we are becoming very risk averse – with the 10pm curfew, Boris has given us bed times. I find it irritating.’ 

Businesses like his are pinning their hopes on December celebrations giving them a cash injection but with yet more regions heading into lockdown, optimism is in short supply. 

Lees-Jones said: ‘Anyone running a family business will tell you, you don’t want to be the generation that has to turn the lights off. A lot of people will go to the wall.’ 

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ASDA: Credit rating setback for brothers buying company for £7bn

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asda credit rating setback for brothers buying company for 7bn

The billionaire brothers buying Asda for £7 billon have suffered a blow after their petrol stations group had its credit rating downgraded. 

Moody’s, the ratings agency, lowered EG Group’s rating from B2 to B3, placing it deeper into the ‘junk’ category. 

EG is owned by Zuber and Mohsin Issa and private equity firm TDR Capital. 

Billionaire Zuber Issa, left, with his brother Mohsin

Billionaire Zuber Issa, left, with his brother Mohsin

Billionaire Zuber Issa, left, with his brother Mohsin 

Its lower rating could mean it faces higher costs to borrow money. 

Firms rated B3 have previously been described by Moody’s as having ‘fragile business models and a high degree of financial risk, including excessive debt’. 

The agency said its decision to downgrade EG was based on ‘the company’s limited progress in terms of financial reporting and governance’. EG Group did not respond to a request for comment last night. 

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