New smart meter rollout obligations in GB

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Commencing July 1 new obligations for suppliers for the national smart meter rollout to meet the mid-2025 target.

The countdown is now for Great Britain’s national smart meter rollout to complete over the next four years by mid-2025. Up to now suppliers have been required to take “all reasonable steps” to roll out the smart meters to residential and small business customers.

Commencing July 1 with a new regulatory framework, annual installation targets will be set for all suppliers on a trajectory to meet the market-wide rollout. These targets will be revised annually and failure to achieve the targets will be a breach of a supplier’s licence.

In an open letter to suppliers, the regulator Ofgem states that over the last year, the smart meter rollout has been affected by COVID-19, which has brought challenges to supplier delivery of the rollout through impacts on customers, staff and the supply chain.

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“Nevertheless, since summer 2020, suppliers have largely continued to roll out smart meters to their customers while delivering in line with government guidance.”

As of December 31, 2020, 23.6 million smart and advanced meters had been installed, amounting to 42% penetration. However, only 19.1 million of these were operating in ‘smart’ mode.

Ofgem states in the letter that it recognises that suppliers are currently operating in a changeable environment. However, the regulator says it notes that for most suppliers there are still significant improvements that can be made in optimising the end-to-end installation and customer journey, as well as maximising completion rates through among other things minimising abort rates. In some cases these abort rates exceed 30%.

In addition, suppliers should focus on putting the right processes in place that maximise the rebooking and subsequent successful installation where an appointment has either been cancelled or aborted.

Ofgem also highlights the benefits of prepayment for customers in being enabled to track and top up credit without leaving their homes and says suppliers should be taking steps to ensure that their prepayment customers are able to receive smart meters as soon as practicable.

Other requirements of the new regulatory obligation are that suppliers “take all reasonable steps” to install the second generation SMETS2 smart meters when replacing meters or a meter is being installed for the first time, such as in new premises.

In some instances due to communications requirements SMETS2 meters cannot yet be installed and Ofgem says it expects the industry to drive the development of any remaining SMETS2 solutions, including alternative home area network (Alt-HAN) solutions, so as to minimise the number of these cases.

Suppliers also are reminded in the letter that all smart meters should be operated in smart mode. SMETS1 meters should be enrolled to the Data Communications Company infrastructure within 12 months of becoming eligible to ensure that smart meter functionality is retained on supplier switching.

Britain has a total of 31.1 million electric and 24.6 million gas home and small business metering points.