UK looks to miss smart meter target due to “dragging of heels”


UK smart meter statistics for the first quarter of 2019 have shown a drop in the rate of installations, causing those in the know to question whether the target should be scrapped or carry and opt-out option.

That’s according to the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), as the country draws ever closer to it’s 2020 deadline. The news follows barely two weeks after the announcement of the installation of the one-millionth SMETS 2 smart meter in the country.

The period January to end-March 2019 saw just over a million meters installed by large energy suppliers, made up of 573,700 electricity meters, and 457,900 gas meters, but this figure represents a 6.7% decrease from Q4 2018, and a 17% drop year-on-year for the first-quarter period.

The country’s rollout has been the subject of criticism, with a recent report by BEIS revealing that just 35% of consumers own smart meters.

As at 31 March 2019, more than 14.3 million smart and advanced meters were in operation across Britain, an increase of just 4.2% for the quarter. By comparison, the UK has 34.3 million traditional meters currently in service.

Of those smart meters, approximately 13.2 million are domestic, and 1.15 million are non-domestic, with the total number of advanced or smart meters installed in the country to date totalling approximately roughly 17.4 million. Roughly a quarter of residential smart meters are actually in “smart mode” operating with advanced functionality, with many meters having reverted to “dumb” one-way metering due to UK customers switching suppliers, another factor that has come in for some criticism.

Just over one-third of all non-domestic meters are similarly operating in “smart mode”.

The slow uptake of smart meters has been blamed as one of the factors leading to the culling of large amounts of utility SSE’s front-line staff numbers.

Commenting on the quarterly statistics, Peter Earl, head of energy at Compare the Market, said: “Nearly 16 million homes are now set up with a smart meter but this is a million miles away from where it should be – the 2020 target is now implausible. The latest setback is made worse by the failure of larger energy suppliers to deliver at the speed required. In a frantic attempt to meet their targets, larger suppliers are insisting that customers install a smart meter when they sign up to some new tariffs, however, this practice is restricting access to some of the most competitive tariffs on the market for those people who already have one or simply don’t want one yet.

“It is disappointing to see that the SMETS2 rollout is moving at a mere trickle. It is absolutely critical that those homes yet to have been offered smart meters are issued with the newer model and that the old SMETS1 meters are replaced – or updated to enable connection to the smart network – to address the issue of them being rendered dumb after switching.”

Natalie Hitchins, head of product and services at Which? added: “It’s disappointing that the industry continues to drag its heels when it comes to smart meter installations. It’s also unacceptable that millions of energy customers have been left lumbered with ‘dumb’ smart meters, especially if they’ve switched to avoid expensive energy tariffs or escape poor customer service.

“Smart DCC urgently needs to get on with rolling out its fix for first-generation smart meters without further delay and installing second-generation meters more widely must be a priority for all parties. Customers should benefit from monitoring their energy use and using this information to switch to a better deal – rather than enduring hassle and soaring costs.”