Prepay customers losing smart functionality

Some prepay energy customers with SMETS 1 smart meters are being shifted back onto dumb metering after switching suppliers, data shows.

Change of Supplier (Cos) data from Electralink has revealed that some SMETS1 smart meters are suffering interoperability issues which require them to be physically replaced after a change of supplier.

Energy companies appear to be proactively targeting prepay customers in making the exchanges, the data transfer service provider, told Utility Week.

Looking at data for all UK Cos events over the past four years, and at meter exchange data in the 3 months following a Cos event, Electralink identified that there was a “surprising” spike in SMETS 1 meter exchanges shortly after a supplier switch.

On further investigation, Dan Hopkinson, head of network and EMI services at Electralink, confirmed that the vast majority of the exchanges made within a few days of Cos were physical switches (rather than meter reconfigurations) and that they were also overwhelmingly being made for prepay customers.

Analysing these findings, Hopkinson said: “It Indicates that some meter types for prepayment customers have interoperability issues.

“We can also infer however that suppliers are being very proactive in addressing the potential disruptions to prepay customers – who are likely to be more vulnerable – that this might cause.”

Hopkinson added that interoperability issues for SMETS 1 meters more generally might be higher, but that suppliers would be less motivated to make physical meter switches – which are a “logistical challenge” – for credit customers.

The total number of SMETS 1 exchanges for legacy prepayment meter types between 2013 and 2017 amounts to 10,598.

Although this number is low in terms of total UK customer numbers, Hopkinson said the rapid exchange of SMETS 1 meters for prepayment meters is “significant” because “It appears suppliers are unwilling to put the interoperability of some pre-payment meters to the test in the case of vulnerable customers and are therefore being proactive in making a physical meter exchange as soon as possible to ensure those customers are not cut off supply or subject to other potential disruptions.”

The Data and Communications Company (DCC), which is responsible for the communications system behind smart meters is due to launch its interface for prepayment meters in the second quarter of this year which should address some interoperability issues. Industry sources have told Utility Week however that this deadline seems “likely” to be pushed back.

Sources have also raised concerns that the current level of functionality available on the DCC network is not sufficient to support the rollout of SMETS 2 meters. There are fears this could perpetuate customer experience of SMETS 1 interoperability issues.

Rob Deopel, partner at EY told Utility Week that following a DCC go-live event in November alst year, “you can talk to the DCC but not for all meter types or for SMETS 2. It’s more like there has been a “soft launch” [of the DCC system] but one with minimal functionality.”

DCC and government have denied this is the case.

A DCC spokesperson said: “The DCC went live in November 2016 and is ready to support energy suppliers to install and operate the next generation SMETS2 smart meters on the national network. It is a matter for individual suppliers to determine their meter roll-out plans.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Busienss, Energy and Industrial Strategy added: “The DCC is live. It will enable the next generation of smart meters to be installed across Great Britain and put households and businesses in control of their energy use.”

Ofgem today released information about the levels for a prepay meter price cap which is due to come into effect in April.

Author: Jane Gray,
Channel: Operations & Assets , Policy & Regulation

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