Smart meter delay an opportunity, says IET

15th May 2013

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Decc's decision to push back the rollout of smart energy meters is an opportunity to get the system right first time, according to the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET)

Following Ed Davey’s announcement last week that the deadlines for the installation of smart meters in UK homes and businesses have been postponed for 12 months, the IET is calling on the government to use the extra time to clarify specifications for the equipment and infrastructure.

In his evidence to the parliamentary committee on energy and climate change, the IET’s chair, Dr Martyn Thomas, warned: “The rollout timescales need to be based on the engineering realities rather than judgments made for political reasons. If we don’t do that we will inevitably make mistakes and get it wrong, and we will get cost and time overruns. We will make mistakes that have to be fixed later.”

He urged the government to assess and formalise specifications for smart meters, the architecture of the smart grid and the security of the system.

“We know how to do that, it’s not expensive and there’s time in the programme to do that,” he added.

Under Decc’s original timetable, energy suppliers were to begin the nationwide installation of smart meters next year, with completion due in 2019. But following feedback from the industry that more time was needed to develop and test systems, the energy department has now delayed the start of the rollout to autumn 2015 and the completion until 2020.

Mark England, chief executive of smart grid and metering technology provider Sentec, told the environmentalist in March that Decc’s timetable for smart meter rollout was under threat because of technical issues with the development of the second version of its smart metering equipment technical specifications (SMETS 2).

“Some energy suppliers are sitting on their hands and refusing to take part in any trials because they say the specifications are not fit for purpose,” he said. “I can’t see anyone committing to large volumes of products in the next two years because it’s far too risky, it doesn’t make sense.”

Under the government’s plans, all smart meters and communications hubs installed by the UK’s energy companies will need to be able work with each other and with the central data system to ensure consumers can easily switch supplier.

The smart metering equipment technical specifications aim to ensure this interoperability. However, Decc figures published in December 2012 revealed that, of 622,900 smart-type meters installed in domestic properties by September 2012, only 300 were compliant with SMETS 1.

The government’s approach to smart meters is also questioned by Alan Whitehead MP who, in his latest column for the environmentalist, argues potential energy savings are limited by consumers’ ignorance of the technology.

“There is no sign yet of an information campaign similar to that which accompanied the recent switch from analogue to digital TV. It will certainly be needed if householders are to use the meters effectively to manage their energy consumption,” he commented.

“There is also evidence from the US that people simply do not use the home display units as envisaged, so energy savings are negligible.

“If modifications are not made we might install at some expense, an over-engineered system that we will only be able to partly use.”

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