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Coronavirus to further delay smart meter rollout?


In an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, energy suppliers have temporarily cancelled smart meter installations. Read on to find out how pausing the smart meter rollout will affect you as a consumer.

For up-to-date information regarding the development of the coronavirus pandemic, consult official sources like the World Health Organization and the UK government.

The deadline for the UK smart meter rollout is likely to be pushed back yet again in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Joel Stark, Managing Director at energy metering and data firm Stark, told Energy Live News in a recent interview that the coronavirus “puts the brakes” on the smart meter rollout, which he says has already experienced “delay after delay after delay.”

What is the smart meter rollout programme?

Unlike traditional gas and electricity meters, smart meters provide real-time usage data to consumers, suppliers and network companies. This ensures accurate billing and helps the network to better manage demand.

Energy companies are in the process of installing 53 million smart meters across the UK. The goal (as of now) is to complete 85% of the installations by 2024. So far, around 16 million smart meters have been installed in homes and small businesses nationwide.

Let’s have a look at a brief history of the smart meter rollout.

  • 2008 - The government announces the need for a smart meter rollout programme. A few energy providers start installing smart meters voluntarily. It soon becomes apparent that these first-generation smart meters (SMETS1) lose their ‘smart functionality’ when customers switch energy supplier.
  • 2012 - The Department of Energy & Climate Change obliges energy suppliers to install smart meters in all homes and smaller non-domestic properties by 2019.
  • 2013 - The deadline for the smart meter rollout is pushed back to 2020.
  • 2016 - The Data Communications Company (DCC) goes live. This provides an infrastructure through which smart meters can operate between different suppliers.
  • 2017 - All domestic energy providers are required to register with the DCC. The second generation of smart meters (SMETS2) also launches. These meters are interoperable between suppliers.
  • September 2019 - The deadline of the rollout is changed once again. Suppliers must now complete 85% of all smart meter installations by 2024.
  • March 2020 - Installation appointments are cancelled until further notice in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

How has the coronavirus impacted the programme?

electricity meter

Due to the risk of consumers and workers catching and spreading the virus, the smart meter rollout has been put on pause with regards to field activity.

Most energy suppliers have been forced to cancel smart meter installations for the foreseeable future. Engineers are only carrying out emergency meter exchanges in situations where customers have lost power supply.

Even before the lockdown began, Stark said he was concerned about the progress of the programme. “It’s not been well controlled. It’s not been well managed,” he said.

Now, after nearly two months with very few installations having taken place, this new goal to reach 85% of consumers by 2024 appears to be even more unattainable.

It’s likely that we will see more postponements to the deadline in the future. Unfortunately, the longer the smart meter rollout takes to complete, the more it is going to cost.

How will consumers be affected?

As for consumers, you’re going to be the one to foot the bill of the prolonged smart meter rollout. Since the rollout began, the total price of the scheme has already increased from £11 billion to over £13 billion.

Since the programme is not actually funded by the government, consumers are the ones paying for it. All the costs that go into the smart meter rollout end up on your energy bill.

“I think whatever happens in the terms of the rate of delivery, you’re wearing those costs. And what that means is the overall cost-benefit of the overall enterprise becomes a bit shaky.”

Joel StarkGeneral Manager of Stark

In order to benefit consumers, Stark said he would like to see more transparency when it comes to billing. This would involve giving the details about how much you’re paying for meters and meter installations on your energy bills. It would also show how much of what you’re paying is going to the banks that lend money to energy suppliers in order to fund the installations.

In terms of keeping your energy bills down, make sure you’re on a fixed-rate energy tariff. This type of tariff guarantees that the price that you pay for gas and electricity will not increase for the duration of the contract.

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