Delay smart meter rollout rather than operate the meters in ‘dumb’ mode, say British MPs


London, U.K. — (METERING.COM) — July 30, 2013 – It would be preferable to delay the installation of smart meters, rather than installing and operating them in “dumb” mode for some time, in order to ensure that the information consumers are given about their benefits isn’t significantly reduced or lost, a group of British MPs have urged.

In a new report the cross party House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee says it would be preferable if consumers can access the benefits of smart meters as soon as they are installed.

Likewise, the Committee says, suppliers should not be pressed to roll out earlier versions of smart meters now if they prefer to wait for a version that fully meets the technical specifications in order to give their customers a better experience.

The two volume report, which with the accompanying input, runs to over 420 pages, is focused on the potential costs and benefits of the rollout – currently estimated at £12.1 billion and £18.8 billion respectively – and on how preparations are progressing in key areas.

The report finds that while the projected benefits of smart meters include accurate billing, easier switching, energy and bill savings for consumers, and operational savings for energy suppliers, not enough has been done to quantify their benefits in a smart grid. Greater transparency is needed for the true costs and benefits of rollout to be assessed.

Further, there is a clear risk that the £6.7 billion net benefit projected by DECC may not be achieved if costs spiral or if consumers do not realize the expected energy and bill savings. While it has been suggested that competition in the market will ensure that costs are kept down and that benefits are passed on to consumers through lower energy prices, the Committee is not convinced that the energy market is sufficiently competitive to ensure this is the case. Until there is strong evidence that it is, DECC and Ofgem must retain responsibility for ensuring that costs do not spiral and that benefits are passed on. Energy companies also should coordinate installation activity to ensure costs are contained and the benefits of rollout are maximised.

The Committee says in the report it welcomes DECC’s recent decision to push back the timetable for rollout to the new 2015-2020 dates, as a sensible response to delays in the implementation program. DECC should retain some flexibility in the new timetable, which should be driven by engineering and infrastructure requirements and the need to avoid cost escalation. The new rollout timetable also provides a welcome opportunity to ensure that public engagement strategies are well under way before mass rollout begins and that a range of messengers, including charities, local authorities and other trusted third parties, will be involved.