Editor's letter: Fears becoming reality for smart rollout
Storm clouds are gathering over the national smart meter rollout as cost concerns and complaints escalate.
Many saw the danger signs long ago, but now alarms bells are ringing loudly around the national rollout of smart meters.
This year we have seen concerns raised about the debilitating costs of the programme for suppliers who are already under the cosh to deliver a range of other mandated programmes.
Meanwhile, national media continue to tub thump about the cost of the programme to consumers and uncertainty around the benefits they should expect.
Now, Citizens Advice has revealed that customer experience of smart meters is struggling with some disturbing problems. The energy industry’s statutory consumer champion has flagged a sharp increase in the volume of smart meter-related complaints, and published a report to highlight specific concerns about the treatment of vulnerable customers during the rollout.
Some of the most prominent problems relate to shock backbilling for customers moving from estimated meter reads and suppliers leaving vulnerable customer stranded having condemned their gas appliances.
At the moment, these issues are low volume – but they are very high impact. If they are not nipped in the bud, they will poison the rollout of a technology which ought to help customers reduce their bills, open the door to smart tariffs and demand-side engagement and reduce the need for investment in new energy generation capacity through harnessing energy efficiency.
As the rollout frenzy continues to build, the risk that smart meter problems will escalate is high. Although suppliers know that customers ought to be at the heart of the programme, their ability to organise themselves in a way that reflects this is limited.
Over the coming years, they will find themselves under increasing pressure to meet government deployment targets and more strain will be put on their ability to invest the training and human resource needed to ensure a good customer experience, throughout their smart meter adoption journey, not just at install.
The storm clouds are gathering. Prudent adjustments are needed to this programme which increase its emphasis on delivering a good result, and reduce its obsessive and resource intensive box-ticking.