According to a statement from the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC), the government has been carrying out a review of the existing plan and timetable for smart meter implementation. The review included feedback on the experience of energy suppliers from their early smart meter deployments and from potential providers of the common data and communication infrastructure (the ‘DCC services’) that will support smart metering.
According to DECC, ‘The consistent message was that more time was needed if the mass roll-out was to get off to the best possible start and ensure a quality experience for consumers’. So the plan now is for suppliers to be ready to start their full scale roll-out by autumn 2015, supported by the DCC services.
The industry is expecting to roll out more than two million smart meters in the next two years of the ‘Foundation Stage’ of the roll out and the announcement included other requirements so that earlier implementations are not penalised. For instance, once installed a smart meter must stay installed even if a customer moves to a new supplier, and, subject to consultation, the customer should also continue to receive remote meter readings. DECC still expects the vast majority of smart meters to be in place by the original 2019 deadline.
An updated view of the Smart Meters delivery plan as a whole will be published later in 2013.
Review: The smart meter roll out is a vast and costly exercise. DECC has estimated that installing the 50 million smart electricity and gas meters will cost £11.3bn and deliver economic benefits of £18.6bn between 2011 and 2030, so the net benefit would be worth £7.3bn (although these benefits will now presumably be lower, given the later date for full implementation). But the National Audit Office (NAO), the UK government department that scrutinises public spending on behalf of Parliament, published a report - Preparations for the roll-out of smart meters – that highlights the uncertainties of consumer benefits, because of lack of evidence. There were also concerns about cost increases and delivery risks. (Search The Green IT Review for more details).
So it starts off as a controversial government programme even before the Big Brother concerns about our individual energy use being monitored, although this is less of an issue in the UK than in the US, for example.
It’s not very clear why the implementation has been delayed, DECC’s only comment - that they needed to ‘ensure a quality experience for consumers’ - implies that this wasn’t a consideration in the original implementation plan. But there may be other issues, such as that reported by the Daily Telegraph last year, which said that British Gas would have to replace many of the 400,000 smart meters it had already installed in UK homes because they were not smart enough.
Anyway, it’s bad news. The whole point of smart meters is to give consumers better information on energy use, so that they can reduce consumption, and that’s now going to be delayed. Smart meters are also an integral part of various associated technology developments, particularly home area networks (HANs)and home energy management systems (HEMS), all designed to help manage energy use. The delay will have a knock on effect on green IT, but, more importantly, further delay the UK’s move to low carbon emissions.
In any case, smart meters are only an initial step towards smart grids, which will make energy supply more efficient and allow for the incorporation of renewable energy. Smart grids also give consumers much greater ability to not just monitor but actively reduce energy use through taking advantage of differential pricing, part of a smart grid’s demand response mechanism. But as yet there is no structure plan for the development of a smart grid in the UK.