Have smart meter problems made lockdown harder?
Consistent problems with smart meters mean there are still many households that use standard meters, leaving the UK smart meter network incomplete. Would a fully functional network make the coronavirus lockdown easier for energy suppliers and their customers?
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In a recent interview with Energy News Live, CEO of Good Energy, Juliet Davenport, stated that ‘if (the UK’s) smart metering network was fully functional, the coronavirus crisis would be easier to deal with’.
Unfortunately, delays in the government’s rollout and various problems with smart meters mean many households in the UK are still left without a functioning smart meter.
What are these problems and why would a fully functioning smart meter network make the situation better?
Persistent smart meter problems
What are the main problems with smart meters that mean the network is still not fully functional?
When the government launched its smart meter rollout scheme, the initial deadline for completion was 2020. However, after it became clear that this was unachievable, the deadline was pushed back to 2024. This slow rollout means many people are still left without a smart meter and can not take advantage of their benefits.
The rollout has been delayed further by the current lockdown as social distancing means smart meter installation appointments have been halted, for the time being, making the 2024 deadline unlikely.SMETS1s
The first smart meters introduced - first-generation smart meters (SMETS1) - are not compatible with the new national communications system. This has caused some major smart meter problems.
Customers with a SMETS1 will find their smart meter loses its ‘smart’ abilities when they switch to an energy supplier that does not use the same model. This issue has been addressed by the introduction of SMETS2, as these can be supported by all energy companies connected to the network.
However, the initial problem of SMETS1s incompatibility means many customers are left with ‘dumb’ meters (regular meters) when they switch suppliers.Prepayment customers
Many energy suppliers do not install or support prepayment smart meters. As a result, a lot of prepayment customers can only top up their credit through a visit to the Post Office or a Payzone/PayPoint store.
This has become a major problem during the lockdown as it means many people are required to leave their homes in order to top up.
Energy companies have attempted to address this by providing alternative top-up options for prepayment customers during lockdown. However, these alternatives are only available to those who cannot leave the house or do not have someone who can top up on their behalf.
The CEO of Utilita has stated ‘We still see people going to the shops to top up even if they have a smart meter, and they don’t need to be’. Remember: if you have a prepayment smart meter you can top up online and do not need to leave your house to top up.Not all energy suppliers support smart meters
The final problem with smart meters is that there are still energy suppliers that cannot support and install them. Generally, these are smaller, independent energy providers, and it means these customers do not have the option of a smart meter.
Energy regulator Ofgem has attempted to resolve this by issuing final orders to suppliers who are not connected to the communications network. However, even if these suppliers are now connected and can support SMETS2s installed by other providers, they are not required to fit them, meaning customers are still missing out.
Why would smart meters help during lockdown?
A fully functioning smart meter network would help make energy suppliers’ response to the lockdown more effective. It would also make it easier for customers to manage their energy tariff during this time.
Understanding changes in demand
Smart meters in every household would mean energy companies could understand changes in the demand for energy almost immediately and react quickly to provide effective customer care.Meter readings
With smart meters, meter readings are submitted automatically. If customers don’t need to submit meter readings manually, it takes away the issue of poor meter accessibility and companies needing to send engineers to read meters or even move them. Both these tasks have been made a lot harder by social distancing.Online top-up
Smart meters allow prepayment customers to top up online, meaning they would not need to leave the house to top up. Not only is this a better way to top up during the lockdown as it helps to promote social distancing, but it is also an easier way for customers to top up in the long term.