The COVID-19 pandemic has made the progress of the smart meter rollout in the UK uncertain, revealed Cornwall Insight, who compared recent assessments with ‘pre-pandemic’ predictions.

The research and consultancy firm looked at the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Ofgem’s initial indications of future rollout levels compared to pre-pandemic expectations.

The below graph shows two COVID-19 impacted rollout profiles, based on recent assessments from Ofgem and BEIS released in May and June respectively. These are compared with a ‘pre-pandemic’ profile based on data from an Ofgem assessment published in October 2019 and a BEIS impact assessment from September 2019.

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Impact of COVID-19

The impact of COVID-19 on the rollout is evident with a significant deviation between the pre-pandemic forecast and future rollout expectations. In fact, based on BEIS assumptions, the rollout will only reach 48% completion by the end of June 2021, compared to 61% on the pre-pandemic forecast.

Rowan Hazell, Senior Analyst at Cornwall Insight, said: “The social distancing and lockdown measures brought in to tackle COVID-19 has caused the smart meter rollout to deviate, off course, with uncertainty around the future trajectory of the programme. Although installations have begun to pick up as lockdown measures have eased, a return to normal levels is a long way off, the long-term impact on the rollout is still to be revealed over the coming months and years.

“The government has extended the date for suppliers to take all reasonable steps (ARS) to install smart meters to domestic and micro-business properties by six months to 30 June 2021. This is intended to allow a return to installing smart meters at volume as COVID-19 restrictions ease and help to address the short-term uncertainty for energy suppliers during the pandemic.

“Following the ARS deadline, a new four-year framework will be introduced, requiring suppliers to meet binding installation targets on an annual basis. The government will be consulting in autumn on how lenient those targets should be, taking the pandemic into account.”