U.K. government stalls on nationwide smart meter rollout


London, U.K. — (METERING.COM) — May 7, 2008 – Following a consultation on energy billing and metering in the context of changing customer behavior in the U.K., the country’s government has decided to move ahead with smart metering for medium-larger businesses by 2013, but that further consultation and analysis is required before a final decision can be made on a rollout to homes and small businesses.

In its response to the consultation, the government says there is a clear business case for smart metering for the around 200,000 larger businesses whose premises were not subject to mandatory half-hourly (electricity) or daily read (gas) metering. However, while its impact assessment work suggests a reasonably positive case for rolling out smart meters to small businesses, the economic case is more questionable for a domestic rollout. Given the complexity of the issues and the number of variables involved, the government wishes to discuss these impact assessments further with stakeholders before taking final decisions on the way forward.

Given this position, the government believes the right way forward is to take powers now in the Energy Bill which will allow a rollout of smart meters to the medium-larger business as soon as possible, but which will also provide the necessary powers to implement a roll out of smart meters to small businesses and domestic consumers in the future. Accordingly it has laid (22 April 2008) an amendment to the Energy Bill to amend the relevant gas and electricity licence conditions to rollout, or facilitate rollout, of smart meters in the future.

The consultation response, which was released last week, says that key themes that emerged were widespread support for a full rollout of smart meters to all electricity and gas consumers, but with differing views on how best to achieve the rollout, and support for smart metering for businesses. There was also broad support for the provision of historical consumption data on energy bills, as long as flexibility was allowed in the provision, but a majority of respondents were against the provision of real time display devices particularly in the context of a wider smart meter rollout.

In response to these points the government says that it accepts the requirement to provide historic information comparing energy usage in one billing period with the same period the previous year to all domestic customers and that this must be implemented by January 1, 2009. While it would be preferable to provide this information in graphical form, this will not be made a requirement. Nor will the requirement be extended to business customers at present.

On the issue of real time display devices the government’s view is that these should be provided with smart meters if the full environmental and energy efficiency benefits are to be generated from a rollout. However, given the further consultation on smart meters the goverment will not proceed with requirements on suppliers to provide such devices on a new and replacement basis, nor with a mandated “on request” policy, and will work with the suppliers to reach a voluntary agreement on how they can be made available to customers in the short-medium term.

The government says it intends to confirm its decisions on the way forward for smart metering for small businesses and domestic consumers as soon as possible after November 2008, when also results from the Energy Demand Research Project are available. Areas of focus in the coming months will include treatment of risk within the economic analysis, assessment of market structures, attribution of benefits to technology functionality, communications options and structures, analysis of the wider potential benefits of smart metering, and further impact assessment, and consultation as appropriate, on smart metering for small businesses.