it will take time for us all to get smart on en­ergy

Re­plac­ing our old me­ters by 2020 is look­ing in­creas­ingly un­re­al­is­tic

The Wharf - - Property -

How clever are your home’s gas and elec­tric­ity me­ters? Most have num­bers which move on­wards as you con­sume. Only a mi­nor­ity have smart me­ters – they can show en­ergy costs, and can com­mu­ni­cate with power sup­pli­ers so no more wait­ing for me­ter read­ers, es­ti­mated bills or try­ing to read the fig­ures your­self.

And be­cause you see pounds and pence us­age in real time, you can turn off waste­ful ap­pli­ances.

By the end of 2020, two years away, the plan was that all our nearly 50 mil­lion gas and elec­tric­ity me­ters should be re­placed by smart me­ters.

But UK spend­ing watch­dog the Na­tional Au­dit Of­fice has warned there is “no prospect” of meeting that dead­line. One prob­lem is many smart me­ters go “dumb” af­ter a sup­plier switch – leav­ing the choice be­tween keep­ing the me­ter and find­ing a bet­ter deal.

Second gen­er­a­tion me­ters work bet­ter but so far few homes have them.

A second prob­lem arose in parts of Scot­land and the North of Eng­land where smart me­ters failed to con­nect to power sup­pli­ers be­cause of in­fra­struc­ture dif­fi­cul­ties. So­lu­tions to both these prob­lems are in the pipe­line. The me­ters do not use broad­band and are de­signed to be im­pos­si­ble to hack.

At best, the watch­dog says the £11bil­lion re­place­ment pro­gramme will reach about seven out of 10 homes and busi­nesses by 2020. It cal­cu­lates that with 39m old­fash­ioned me­ters yet to be re­placed, there is “no re­al­is­tic prospect” of all homes and busi­nesses be­ing of­fered one by the end of 2020.

Re­plac­ing me­ters in dual fuel house­holds costs nearly £400 a time but longer term sav­ings should out­weigh this.

En­ergy sup­pli­ers agree the gov­ern­ment dead­line is un­likely to be hit.

Npower says “the obli­ga­tion of power com­pa­nies is to take ‘all rea­son­able steps’ to of­fer smart me­ter in­stal­la­tion to cus­tomers.” In­stal­la­tion on re­quest is a le­gal must for all com­pa­nies ex­cept the very small­est.

While all who ap­ply should get a new me­ter, some urge cau­tion.

Gil­lian Guy, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Cit­i­zens Ad­vice, said: “We firmly be­lieve 2023 rather than 2020 is a more rea­son­able dead­line so tech­ni­cal prob­lems can be fixed.”

And Com­parethe­mar­ket en­ergy guru Peter Earl added: “Un­til the second gen­er­a­tion of smart me­ters is rolled out na­tion­wide by all sup­pli­ers, we could not con­fi­dently rec­om­mend them as they might fail af­ter a switch.”

Smart me­ters should make it easier to mon­i­tor en­ergy use... but could com­pli­cate chang­ing your provider

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