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Roll out of energy smart meters by target date ‘unlikely’

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
Even working round the clock to install smart meters, the largest energy companies are unlikely to hit the 2020 target date for the roll out.

The largest energy companies (those with 250,000+ customers) have accounted for most of the smart meter installations (under nine million), but they will struggle to meet the 50 million goal in just two years’ time.

Analysis by campaign group Which? revealed that energy companies would need to work round the clock, installing 24 smart meters a minute to meet the 2020 target date for the roll out of the devices. That’s around 250,000 each week to keep on track.

The Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry told Parliament earlier this month that smart meters were being installed at a rate of 400,000 a month. British Gas has installed the most meters at 4.5 million which is the equivalent of one every 25 seconds.

While the energy companies maintain they will meet the target, Which? believes this is unlikely given the current pace of installation.

Energy smart meters should mean the end of estimated bills and by providing real-time information, consumers will be able to take steps to reduce their energy use. See’s Should you get a smart meter? for more information.

The government estimates the roll out of domestic and non-domestic smart meters will generate benefits of £16.7bn, with domestic devices saving £47 on the average bill per year by 2030.

But to date, the £11bn project has also been hit by problems, including the delay to IT system DCC wireless network, issues over installations and some meters losing functionality when customers switch energy supplier.

Customers with a smart meter

Feedback from customers who have had the device installed is generally positive.

At least three quarters of Which? members with smart meters said their device had met or exceeded their expectations in terms of knowing their energy spend (76%), energy use in kilowatt hours (75%), accuracy of bills (86%) and not having to submit meter readings (91%).

Six in 10 (59%) said their smart meter and its In-Home Display (IHD), had changed their understanding of energy use and costs to some extent. But 41% said they hadn’t. This was mainly because they knew the information already (43%), don’t use the IHD (27%) or don’t understand the IHD (13%).

Four in 10 (42%) smart meter owners have experienced a problem, from the smart meter losing functionality when switching supplier, to difficulty getting a meter reading. Around 866,000 of smart meters installed in homes are currently operating in ‘dumb’ mode.

Alex Neill Which? managing director of home products and services, said: “Smart meters have a critical role to play in making the energy market function fairly and more competitively, as well as giving customers a better switching experience and more control over their energy use and bills

“All parties involved in the roll out must address consumer concerns and resolve problems, including keeping the roll out on track and costs under control.”

‘Energy suppliers are working hard’

Robert Cheesewright, director of policy and communications at Smart Energy GB, said: “It’s crucial we modernise our energy system or we will be stuck in the past, crouching under the stairs with a torch to take meter readings and worrying about the shock of inaccurate, estimated bills.

“We are pleased to see the survey published by Which? shows that at least three quarters of people with smart meters say the new technology has met or exceeded their expectations. Energy suppliers are working hard to ensure everyone is able to enjoy the transformative experience of smart meters as soon as possible. Get in touch with your energy supplier to arrange your installation.”

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