Claire Perry has insisted that smart meters will be installed in 70 per cent of households by the end of next year despite widespread doubts about the pace of the programme’s slow rollout.
The energy minister told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee, which carried out a one-off hearing yesterday morning (9 January) into the recently published National Audit Office report on the smart meter programme, that the Whitehall watchdog’s forecast of 70 per cent penetration by the end of 2020 is “achievable”.
She said that latest figures showing that 12.8 million smart meters have been installed meant that they were now operating in a quarter of all households.
Daron Walker, senior smart metering reporting officer at BEIS, said that to meet the 70 per cent figure would require an increase to 1.8 million installations per annum compared to the level of just over 1.2 million achieved last year.
“It’s certainly challenging but not out of the question that we can get to those levels,” he said, adding that the pace is likely to accelerate this year because some suppliers have been waiting for the more sophisticated SMETS2 meters to come on stream.
And he said most recent installation figures did not take into account those carried out by some small suppliers.
However industry figures expressed reservations about whether the government would meet its official target that all households must be offered a smart meter by the end of 2020.
Dhara Vyas, head of future energy services at Citizens Advice, told the committee that the target would not be met.
“If it is, it will be met at greater cost and inconvenience to customers. It is important to slow down and focus on quality and cost,” she said, adding that complaints to the charity’s advisers included “aggressive” sales techniques when pushing smart meters and missed installation appointments.
Audrey Gallagher, director of policy at Energy UK, described the government’s timetable for introducing smart meters as “too ambitious” given the “size and complexity” of the task.
Richard McCarthy, chair of the Data Communications Company (DCC), said that more than 260,000 of the more sophisticated SMETS2 have now been installed, including a “new record” figure of 5,000 in a single day earlier this week.
“We accept that we start from a low base, but if we look at the last full month overall growth in installation was 76 per cent: not an unusual figure.”
He expressed confidence that the DCC is “ready” to cope with a rapid increase in the SMETS2 rollout because the system is equipped to manage 280,000 installations a week.
But Gallagher said that the government’s aim of phasing SMETS1 meters by the middle of March will be a “massive challenge” because of the lack of SMETS2 meters for pre-payment customers and the slow pace of rollout of the inter-operable devices across the northern network.
Customers with SMETS2 meters can switch suppliers without losing smart functions on the devices which cannot be guaranteed on the SMETS1 devices.