Smart meter decisions not so smart: MPs blast UK’s £11bn programme

Smart meters are only as smart as the policy
Smart meters could deliver energy savings. But the rollout needs to be smarter.

The UK’s smart meter rollout programme is at risk of being derailed, MPs have warned, urging urgent government action to avoid making one of the UK’s flagship mandated energy policies a “costly failure”. They suggest it may be time to take the rollout off energy suppliers and hand over to energy networks.

The Energy and Climate Change Committee’s smart meters report catalogued a host of major problems with the rollout.

Delays in setting up the co-ordinating technical body, agreeing meter specifications and engaging the public all risked policy failure, the report suggested. Ultimately, it called for energy networks to be brought in to help sort out the mess created by the government opting to proceed with a supplier-led rollout.

The report pulled few punches. It suggested that the body contracted to co-ordinate the technical side of the rollout, the data communications company (DCC), appeared to have “a poor understanding of its contractual obligations”. That in turn, the Committee said, represented a “failure on the Government’s part to ensure it was contracting with a partner capable of delivering what it requires.”


The Committee said it was taking too long to sort out technical issues around smart meters installed early on (so-called Smets1 meters) and the later agreed standard for smart meters (called Smets2). It suggested that early installed meters that were close enough to the agreed advanced standard should be left in use to avoid further delays to the programme. Many suppliers, particularly those with a strategy to ‘go early’ on smart meters to gain competitive advantage, have lobbied hard for this solution.

Public engagement

The report said that the central comms body tasked with co-ordinating public engagement (Smart Energy GB) had to “step up delivery” of its communications programme. It needed to prove it had a “clear plan”, the Committee said.

Bring in the networks

Energy networks were left aghast when the government opted for an energy supplier-led rollout. The report suggested it may be too late to reverse that decision, but made clear its appraisal of the outcome. Cataloguing a swathe of major problems with the rollout, the report concluded:

“All the problems which we have identified are symptomatic of a national programme whose management the Government has left largely to suppliers.”

Taking the rollout off the suppliers and handing it to the networks would be a huge decision for the next administration. The report acknowledged that it may be too late to completely hand over to the network operators, but left the door open:

“The Government must give serious consideration to whether or not it is possible to reduce costs to consumers by streamlining the roll-out of smart-meters, perhaps through more active participation of DNOs.”

Intervention required

Either way, government could not leave it to commercial companies to deliver such a nationally significant project, the report concluded:

“The Government must also take a more active role in driving forward the industry-led roll-out, seeking and facilitating industry-wide solutions to the technical challenges that remain. Getting it right will eventually cut energy usage and bills for 30 million homes and businesses in the UK. Getting it wrong risks embarrassment for the Government through public disengagement with a flagship energy policy and a costly missed opportunity.”

See the full report here.

Updated: Decc and Ofgem have now responded to the report. The department disagrees with many of its central recommendations and insists that energy suppliers rather than networks remain best placed to deliver the rollout. Read the response here.

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  1. The news of the delay in the government’s plan to install smart meters in UK buildings within the next five years raises doubt as to their effectiveness. There is a common perception that they are the magic cure to energy efficiency issues, but in reality they don’t help any more than telling a consumer how much energy they are using in total; not why, or where, or how. While a consumer can see in real-time that boiling a kettle causes a spike in energy usage, it doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty details or offer a solution to a consumer. Smart home technology is a far more powerful option, helping consumers regulate energy usage by actively mitigating the circumstances that lead to wasting energy in the first place (e.g. controlling lights and heating remotely, dimming lights, setting up smart devices to turn it off and save power).

  2. Smart meters are a complete waste of time.

    The Government have been bamboozled into passing legislation, thinking that Smart Maters equate with Smart Grids, where there are genuine savings from Small Business and Domestic Consumers producing a proportion of their own power.


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