Ever since the government made the decision to proceed with smart meter deployment, in December 2009, the programme has been beset by problems.
At the end of September 2018, out of 53 million traditional meters, about 38 million meters were still waiting to be replaced. It is also very likely that many of the 14.7 million meters already deployed will have to be changed.
It is worth comparing this performance to the French electricity smart meter programme, known as Linky. Linky has completed over 98 per cent of its intermediary objectives to date. For Britain, even a 2023 rollout completion date now looks optimistic. There are several reasons for this superior performance in the French programme:
• Linky is led by the network operator, the EDF-owned Enedis. It is a co-ordinated programme driven by a single player.
• The metering technology and communication systems are not overly complicated.
• The metering technology is standardised, meaning there are no discrepancies or restrictions when customers change suppliers.
• A distinct trial phase was allowed to test the technology and to assess and plan the programme thoroughly, well before the start of the rollout.
The GB programme is now way over time and over budget. Many of the already installed smart meters will need to be replaced. We must stop now and take the time to think things through.
In an ideal world we would stop the programme now and start again with a distribution-led programme. Given the sunk costs, it is probably too late now and the politics of such a U-turn would be disastrous.
However, it would not hurt to pause the GB smart meter programme and assess how it is that the French have been so successful in delivering Linky. Then start again with clearer rules, a more realistic plan and potentially less complicated technology.