The rocky road to the rollout of smart meters

1st December 2016


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IEMA

Is the rollout becoming a roll into a ditch?

Smart meters should be installed in all UK homes by 2020, making physical reading a thing of the past and enabling households to monitor and manage their energy use. These are potentially good outcomes, but there is a long road to travel yet, including installing the meters and setting up a system that can deal with all the smart communication traffic.

A report on progress has been released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It suggests that this road is becoming an increasingly rocky one. At its heart is the continuing delay to when the Data Communications Company (DCC), which will manage the meter network, will start to operate.

Without this up-to-date, interoperable smart meters cannot realistically be installed. Outsourcing business Capita is responsible for DCC and has repeatedly failed to meet its own start dates. It has just staggered into life in two of the three main areas of the UK – the northern area is further delayed. When I say staggered, it seems that the go-live process itself is plagued with all sorts of unresolved issues and may not yet be reliable enough to assure the safe rollout of the most up-to-date meters.

This is important because no leeway has been given by the government on the completion date for installation. It is still 2020, but is now being compressed into a shorter timeframe. Installing more than 50 million meters was always a big challenge, but projections from the report suggest that the programme will peak now at more than 15 million installations in one year (2019) – an increase of more than 2 million on projections a year ago. This starts to strain credibility, not only about whether it is technically feasible, but, if it is, the additional costs of employing extra installers and managing the programme over a shorter period. It would add to an already strained budget.

I support the aims of a smart meter programme. But as matters stand, it is increasingly looking like the rollout is in danger of becoming a roll into a ditch. I have called for a pause in the programme to allow for an independent appraisal of overall progress and problems. I think this is necessary to ensure that we get the rollout right, and do not, as I think we are in danger of doing, resort to ever more counterproductive fixes to keep the show on the road.

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