ITV’s Tonight programme has concluded that energy companies are the only ones sure to benefit from the rollout of smart meters and that they are hiding the socialised cost of these from consumers.

A documentary produced by ITV and aired last night on the channel’s Tonight programme said that the national smart meter rollout is at risks of exceeding its £11bn rollout cost by at least £1bn.

It also claimed that 83 per cent of customers are not aware the cost of smart meters will be socialised through bills and that adverts being produced by energy companies and the campaign body Smart Energy GB, which claim smart meters are free, are deliberately misleading.

Tonight talked to Green Energy boss Doug Stewart about the misunderstanding. It described the chief executive as “breaking ranks” with the industry to confirm that “nothing is free” and that, ultimately, customers will bear the costs of the rollout.

Stewart said that it was a “slight of hand” for government and industry to describe smart meters as free.

Will Morris, group managing director of retail at SEE, was also questioned by Tonight and said he would review his company’s wording in smart meter advertising to avoid further confusion on the matter.

The £11bn cost of the national smart meter programme came under close scrutiny during the programme. It was compared unfavourably with the number of schools and hospitals which culd be built for the same amount.

Furthermore, evidence from campaign group The Big Deal was used to warn that there is significant risk of an additional £1bn being added to programme costs.

This overspend will stem from installation costs, said The Big Deal. This is because there has been a significant underestimation of the number of homes which will require second or third visits before meters and in home displays are properly installed.

While Tonight did recognise that many customers have reported positive initial experiences of smart meters, and have found ways to save money, it concluded that the benefits of the national smart meter “experiment” are far from certain for consumers.

It said that the “only ones sure to benefit” from the programme are energy suppliers who will be able to but meter reading staff.

ITV’s conclusions conflict with comments made by consultancy EY to Utility Week. The firm’s Rob Doepel said that the capital investment costs of the smart meter rollout pose a fundamental threat to the future of energy suppliers, especially the big six who bear the vast majority of the responsibility for rollout, but who may struggle to reap the benefits of increased engagement with customers.

The documentary also follows close on the heals of Smart Energy GB’s bi-annual update on smart meter installation rates and customer experience of smart meters. This update stated that satisfaction with smart meters is extremely high in the UK.

ITV’s Tonight programme on smart meter costs is availble on the channel’s catch up TV platform.

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