More problems with the UK’s smart meter rollout

It’s safe to say that recent governments’ efforts to install smart meters in UK households have not been universally popular. The national rollout scheme – originally intended to be completed in 2020 – is now encountering more problems, with fears that rising costs will be passed on to householders.

Smart meter rollout delayed

The rate of installations needs to increase, as it’s been much slower than first hoped. Up to 7 million smart meters have been installed to date in the UK, of the 53 million originally intended by 2020. The cost to suppliers of rolling out the scheme is rising, as many customers have been harder to persuade than expected.

Due to a lack of clear advice, a lot of people fail to see the benefits of having a smart meter installed – especially as it basically means taking a day off work. Scaremongering hasn’t helped, with theories circulating about ulterior motives for collecting customers’ usage information! Momentum has also been halted by serious technical issues, as some people’s meters have stopped working after switching supplier, despite repeated assurances otherwise.

Rising costs of smart meters

There has been a lot of criticism that the scheme has been badly run and suggestions it should be be paused and reconsidered, before costs spiral further. The cost per household of having a smart meter installed has risen from £100-130, due to increased administrative costs from chasing hard-to-reach customers. Although householders won’t shoulder the whole cost of installation, a fraction will be passed on to them via their energy bills – exactly how much remains to be seen.

The increased cost per household has been blamed in part for the big six energy companies’ recently rising bills. If bill payers end up shouldering higher costs for installation, it will contradict promises made by the government, further fueling mistrust.

What’s next for smart meters?

The government included its commitment to smart meters in the Queen’s Speech to Parliament. There was a veiled admission of defeat in the subtle change of wording used; there’s now only a promise to ‘offer’ a smart meter to every household by 2020. This buys them more time to (hopefully) iron out all the problems… Something that might worry some people is the fact that the Queen’s Speech also mentioned the possibility of smart meter regulations being changed in the future.

Many already have fears over how data will be stored and used, but at the moment this seems unfounded. They don’t collect any more data than ordinary meters, and energy companies can’t share it unless you give them explicit permission.

Importantly, no-one will be forced to have a smart meter installed – but there is still a lot of hope for their benefits, provided current issues are resolved. Proponents say that the positives of smart meters will mean they pay for themselves in the future, but in order for the benefits to be realised, the majority of UK residents need to be persuaded to co-operate. The government and energy companies have a lot to do to reassure people and encourage them that getting a smart meter is in their best interests.

Have you had a smart meter installed? Do you think they are a good thing, or an expensive mistake for the UK?