Time to ‘embrace reality’ and set new smart meter rollout deadline

The government has been urged to ‘embrace reality’ over the smart meter rollout plan and set a new date for its target of reaching 50 million homes across the UK.

This week saw Ofgem admit for the first time that smart meters will continue to be installed beyond 2020. It follows statistics released last month showing that installation rates have continued to fall and that in total only 14.3 million smart and advanced meters were in operation across British homes at the end of March.

Now the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has been urged to outline a revised strategy which acknowledges the slow pace of installation and set a new deadline.

There have also been calls for action on the continued installation of first-generation (SMETS1) smart meters, months after a supposed deadline for the practice.

Mike Foster, chief execute of the Energy & Utilities Alliance, said a change of Prime Minister was a perfect time for a revised strategy on this issue.

He said: “We have been warning for 18 months or more that the smart meters deadline was not going to be met. It has become an open secret in the industry.

“The government has already quietly modified its target from installing a smart meter in every home to offering a smart meter to every home – something that is very different.

“With a new Prime Minister coming in and presumably lots of changes across departments they can start with a fresh slate. They need to embrace reality and set a new target.”

However, Foster stressed that it was important that the rollout was managed carefully and was not simply a dash towards an arbitrary goal.

He said: “Ultimately the aim of this is for people to pay less. If companies have to cram in meter installations in an unfeasible timeframe they are going to spend more – on extra staff, on overtime and that could undermine the principle goal.

“The other elephant in the room is SMETS2. It sends out the wrong signal to customers if we’re still installing first generation meters.

“We are not going to convince the public that we’re serious about all the big changes that need to happen to get to net-zero emissions by 2050 if we can’t get this right.”

In its open letter published earlier this week Ofgem stressed that the onus was still on suppliers to “take all reasonable steps” to roll out smart meters to all their domestic and small business customers by the end of 2020. However, it admitted: “It is clear smart meters will need to continue to be installed beyond 2020.”

Peter Earl, head of energy at comparethemarket.com, said the regulator must stop implying that the deadline can be met.

He added: “Furthermore, in too few instances is a SMETS1 installation in the ‘best interest’ of a customer, so it is hard to understand why suppliers are still allowed to install them several months beyond the supposed end-date. We would not recommend a customer considering getting a smart meter choosing to have a SMETS1 version installed or they risk the device being rendered dumb after switching.”

A spokesman for Energy UK said: “Suppliers have been working tirelessly to meet the deadline and offer all households a smart meter by the end of 2020. However, it’s a complex programme with a number of associated technical and logistical challenges. This has resulted in delays to the initial timetable and unfortunately means not all households will have had a smart meter installed by that time.

“It’s therefore important for suppliers to know what their obligations will be post-2020. Any target must be realistic, apply to all suppliers in the market and be supported by wider government policy – as well as being underpinned by an updated assessment on the costs and benefits of the rollout.

“The energy industry will continue to work with the Government and other partners to enable the programme to be delivered in full and cost effectively.

“We must not lose sight of the huge benefits that will result from delivering this programme. Millions of smart meter customers are already benefitting from greater control and information about their energy use and reporting a positive experience. Smart meters are a necessity if we are to deliver the new, flexible future energy system that will help us to achieve our climate change goals.”

The government has  to publishing a new cost benefit analysis on smart meters this year.

A BEIS spokesperson said: “Millions have already chosen to have a smart meter and take control of their energy use to cut their bills. We remain committed to ensuring that everyone will be offered a smart meter by the end of 2020 to reap these benefits.”