News reached us last week that the introduction of smart meters into 30m UK homes would be delayed by a year. Time enough for the government to make sure the £11bn cost doesn’t spiral out of control.
As opposed to existing meters, rather unkindly termed ‘dumb meters’, smart meters will give much more detailed information about the amount of gas and electricity your household is using.
The government had planned to complete the roll-out of these new meters by 2019, kicking it all off in 2014. However, both of those markers have been shifted back a year. The reason given was that the industry needs more time to perfect the communications systems required for smart meters to be effective.
Don’t let smart meter costs spiral
So why should you be interested in this? Well, the roll-out comes with an expected bill of around £11.7bn. And that’s a bill that all of us will be picking up. So it’s pretty important that the whole thing is done with the cost to you and me at the forefront of considerations.
Smart meters are, in principle, a good idea. Or they ought to be at least. More accurate billing should flow as a result of their introduction and we have often come across estimated bills as one of your most regular bones of contention. That makes it all the more important that their roll-out across the UK is done correctly.
Last year we called on the government to review the smart meter roll-out on the grounds that there were no effective cost controls in place. The government seems to think that the energy market is competitive enough to keep costs down. However, when the number of people switching energy companies has declined in recent years and the majority of people still sit on expensive standard tariffs, this seems a bit far-fetched.
We also called for suppliers to regularly report to Ofgem about the costs they’re passing through to customers. Furthermore, we think that installing smart meters region by region would be far more cost effective and would better engage people with their benefits. In that respect it wouldn’t be dissimilar to the digital television switchover which was completed successfully.
Getting the smart meter roll-out right
So, this delay presents an opportunity for the government to get a grip on these issues. It needs to prove to us that it has a plan that will be well coordinated and consumer friendly – and that the cost of the roll-out doesn’t spiral. Energy bills are on the up and up anyway, so the last thing we need is something else compounding the problem.
Have you had a smart meter installed? Do you love it or hate it? If you haven’t got a smart meter, are you keen to get one installed or are you dead against it?