2020 energy meter roll-out target not looking so smart

The UK’s large energy companies would need to work round the clock – installing 24 smart meters per minute – in order to meet the 2020 roll-out target for the devices, according to Which? analysis.

Research by the consumer champion shows that even if installers worked 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, they would still struggle at this rate to meet the goal of replacing around 50 million domestic meters, potentially leaving some customers who want smart meters still waiting.

Smart meters should mean the end of consumers taking meter readings and getting estimated bills, and provide useful real-time information about their energy use. The Government estimates the roll out of domestic and non-domestic smart meters will produce economic benefits of £16.7 billion, with domestic devices saving £47 on the average bill per year by 2030 through using less energy and suppliers passing on cost savings.

But fewer than nine million domestic smart meters have been fitted so far and the £11 billion project has been beset by problems – including delays to a vital IT system (the DCC wireless network), issues over installations and some meters losing functionality when customers switch supplier.

The 12 largest energy companies have accounted for most of domestic smart meter installations so far – but they would need to fit some 250,000 a week between them to meet the 2020 goal, Which? found. Earlier this month, Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry told Parliament that smart meters were being installed at a rate of 400,000 a month.

While the energy companies publicly maintain that they will meet the target, Which? believes this is unlikely given the current pace of installation.

British Gas has put in the most meters – 4.5 million – and told Which? it’s installing a smart meter every 25 seconds. Other companies collectively need to fit meters more frequently for the industry to meet the deadline.

For energy customers who have had a smart meter fitted, feedback has been generally positive about whether it met their expectations, according to a new Which? survey.

At least three quarters of Which? members with smart meters said their device had met or exceeded their expectations on a number of measures; including knowing their energy spend (76%), energy use in kilowatt hours (75%), the accuracy of their bills (86%) and not having to submit meter readings (91%).

Nearly six in 10 (59%) said their smart meter and its In-Home Display (IHD), had changed their understanding of energy use and costs to some extent. But, four in 10 (41%) said they hadn’t. This was mainly because they knew the information already (43%), don’t use the IHD (27%) or don’t understand the IHD (13%).

Four in 10 (42%) smart meter owners have had a problem. The most common being the smart meter turning losing functionality when switching supplier and difficulty in getting a meter reading. Around 866,000 of smart meters installed in homes are currently operating in ‘dumb’ mode.

Alex Neill Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said:

“Smart meters have a critical role to play in making the energy market function fairly and more competitively, as well as giving customers a better switching experience and more control over their energy use and bills .

“All parties involved in the roll out must address consumer concerns and resolve problems, including keeping the roll out on track and costs under control.”


Notes to eds

  1. Large Energy Suppliers (12) as of 30 September 2017 according to BEIS, relates to energy suppliers with 250,000 customers or more – British Gas, Co-operative Energy, E.ON, EDF Energy, Extra Energy, First Utility, Npower, Ovo Energy, Scottish Power, SSE, Utilita, Utility Warehouse.
  2. BEIS cost-benefit analysis estimates savings of £16.7 billion through reduced energy use, £47 on the average bill, by 2030.
  3. The speed at which energy firms are installing smart meters is increasing, but they’ll need to install 24 per minute, around the clock, every day of the week, to meet the 2020 deadline according to Which? calculations based on data from the BEIS Smart Meters, Quarterly Report, 30 Nov 2017.
  4. In response to a written question from Labour MP Steve McCabe on the 6th February, Government Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth Claire Perry wrote: “The roll-out of smart meters is making good progress, with nearly 400,000 meters installed every month and a total of 8.6 million meters already operating as of 30 September 2017.”
  5. Due to the differing data collection frequency for large and small suppliers, ‘most’ refers to the latest operating figures available (as at 30 September 2017 for large suppliers and 31 December 2016 for small suppliers). BEIS Smart Meters, Quarterly Report, to end September 2017.
  6. The National Audit Office will review the smart meter roll-out and ‘assess the economic case for the roll-out’ and ‘look at whether the Government is on track to achieve its target’, with the outcome due this summer.
  7. Which? conducted an online survey in November 2017 of 473 Which? members with smart meters.
  8. The vast majority of smart meters installed so far are first generation (SMETS1) smart meters. These can lose functionality if energy customers switch supplier to a company which cannot operate the meter. None of the big energy suppliers Which? spoke to in November had begun installing second-generation (SMETS2) smart meters. These meters will be able to switch seamlessly between suppliers, without the problems faced by their earlier counterparts.
  9. For Which? Consumer rights advice: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/l/meter-problems
  10. The latest on the smart meter roll-out and whether your energy supplier is installing yet: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/smart-meters/article/smart-meters-explained/smart-meter-roll-out
  11. What happens when you get a smart meter installed: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/smart-meters/article/smart-meters-explained/getting-a-smart-meter-installed

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