Consumer rights group raises fresh fears over pace of smart meter roll out, as government awaits latest damning NAO report
The scale of the challenge facing the UK’s smart meter roll out will be hammered home once again this week with the release of two major reports warning the high profile project is running badly behind schedule.
Today consumer rights group Which? published an update warning energy suppliers will need to triple the current rate of smart meter installation to hit a target of replacing all existing meters by 2020.
Which?: Energy companies need to install 30 smart meters a minute to meet 2020 target.
The organisation calculated that to meet the long-standing target suppliers will need to install an average of 30 smart meters per minute, every day, for the next two years, to fully replace 46 million existing meters.
The report comes just days ahead of the anticipated publication of a new report from the National Audit Office, which is expected to feature scathing criticism of the £11bn project, accusing it of being badly delayed and over budget. It is also set to highlight how the rollout has seen millions of first generation smart meters installed that will have to be upgraded in the coming years to provide the smart grid functionality and interoperability that is expected to be one of the main advantages of the technology.
The Which? report also argued that government estimates for the expected savings on an annual dual fuel bill in 2020 as a result of the rollout have already fallen from £26 to just £11.
“So far, large suppliers have installed more than 11 million smart meters, however this is just a quarter of the 46 million existing meters that could potentially be replaced,” the organisation said.
The latest update builds on an analysis from February this year, which calculated that large energy companies would need to install 24 smart meters a minute to meet the deadline. It adds that far from speeding up the rollout has slowed down in recent months.
“Energy suppliers maintain that they will meet the 2020 target, but as the deadline draws closer, Which? believes this is looking increasingly unlikely and more must be done to ensure that all consumers are offered the opportunity to benefit from upgrading to a smart meter,” the group said.
“The smart meter rollout has been plagued by problems and been massively delayed, the benefits have been overstated and the savings they could bring consumers are at risk,” added Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services. “Therefore it’s time for the government to replan with industry and consumer groups to ensure people get the maximum benefit at the minimum cost.”
Smart meters and related smart grid technologies are wiodely regarded as crucial to efforts to improve energy efficiency and decarbonise UK power supplies by enabling more intelligent management of electricity supply and demand.
The government has consistently defended the handling of the roll out and a spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy today said the project had already seen millions of people seize the opportunity to “take control of their energy use to cut their bills”.
He added that the projected £11 a year reduction in annual fuel bills was “not insignificant” and would deliver £300m of savings across the economy in 2020 alone.
A spokesman for trade body Energy UK offered a similar take. “Energy suppliers are committed to meeting the government’s deadline of ensuring all eligible households and businesses are offered a smart meter by 2020,” he said. “The industry is working hard to reach as many customers as possible and to ensure the rollout is carried out safely, efficiently, cost-effectively and delivers a positive experience for customers. With more than 12 million smart meters now installed in Great Britain, more and more customers are enjoying the benefits that smart meters bring and are reporting high levels of satisfaction.”
Robert Cheesewright, director of corporate affairs at Smart Energy GB, the body tasked with managing the smart meter roll out, said: “Britain’s smart meter rollout is a vital upgrade for the nation’s energy infrastructure. Smart meters are crucial if we want to tackle climate change and reduce our carbon footprint. In line with the government’s figures, smart meters will help people save on average almost £50 a year on their energy bills by 2030. Energy suppliers are working hard to offer all households smart meters as soon as possible.””