Responding to a specially convened debate in Westminster Hall last week on the smart meter programme, energy minister Nick Hurd told MPs that “it is not right to send any signal of slipping ambition” on the 2020 deadline for equipping all homes with a smart meter.
“We are driving system change and it needs to be driven hard,” he said.
“This is not a trivial issue; it is a fundamental piece in the broader picture of how we upgrade our critical energy infrastructure to deliver a better system for our constituents.”
And he accused suppliers of having “mixed” motives in pushing for a relaxation of the rollout.
His comments followed a series of calls by MPs during the debate to review the scheduled deadline for full smart meter installation.
Conservative MP for St Ives Derek Thomas said: “The 2020 deadline is too ambitious. The cost and expertise required for installing smart meters has been underestimated.
“If we stick to the current deadline, the impact on consumer experience will undoubtedly be negative. That is a shame, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get it right.”
Thomas said an independent review was needed into whether the supply chain was equipped to press ahead with the programme.
“We must consider the pressure that suppliers are under to find and retain qualified engineers, to source the meters that will do the job and to ensure that they are fitted in a way that helps rather than hinders the consumer.”
Shadow energy minister Alan Whitehead backed Thomas’s call for a review of the timetable.
He said that feedback from the industry was that the increase in the smart meter installation rate from 1 to 2.5 million per annum “will be impossible.”
Whitehead said a review should establish that the roll-out can be achieved on time with “the expected benefits for customers, on the basis of a fair distribution of costs and benefits”.
Hurd responded to concerns that consumers are effectively subsidising the smart meter introduction by pointing to the knock-on benefits they would enjoy from improvements to the energy system smart meters will deliver.