UK's climate change dept abolished, but 'smart meters and all our policies strong as ever'

What? Hang on, isn't it an EU mandated project?

The closure of the UK government's Department of Energy & Climate Change should result in a major rethink of the organisation's shambolic and costly £11bn Smart Meter programme, campaigners have urged.

Last week DECC was merged with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to form the newly anointed Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The British government aims to fit 53 million digital gas and electricity meters in homes and small businesses by 2020. But it has encountered continued delays, with the current number of installations now at 3.6 million.

The programme was borne out of an EU directive, also raising questions as to its mandate given the UK's plans to leave the union.

Dan Lewis, senior advisor on infrastructure at the Institute of Directors, said costs of the programme are reported to be escalating further, while the consumer benefits are falling.

"The responsible thing to do would be for the next minister to freeze it until we get to grips with the next numbers," he said.

The latest updated Impact Assessment, published in January 2014, estimates a net benefit of £6.2bn over the period to 2030, by delivering total benefits of around £17bn and costs of around £10.9bn.

The Department will publish an overdue updated impact assessment later this year.

Earlier this year The Sunday Times reported that the real cost of the programme could now be as much as £14bn - which consumers will be forced to foot.

Even by its own admission, DECC has reported negligible reductions in cash and energy consumption by consumers already using the meters.

Research by British Gas showed that smart meter customers have reduced their energy consumption by an average of about three per cent for both gas and electricity, said DECC in a written submission to Parliament last month.

Nick Hunn, CTO of WiFore Consulting, said: "I would hope it is an opportunity to rescope the programme and to see it stopped and re-thought with a proper evidence base."

He added: "The programme is still horribly delayed, and will still don't know what the specifications are."

In a Parliamentary question last week, the newly appointed environment secretary Andrea Leadsom said the programme would continue despite the abolition of DECC. "It is our continued plan that all households and businesses should be offered a smart meter by 2020," she said.

She added: "Smart meters and all our policies will remain as strong as ever."

Security concerns have also been raised over the programme, with GCHQ having also intervened in the programme to ensure hackers cannot crash the country’s power grids.

Although, DECC has insisted that GCHQ has been working in close partnership with the department "since the very early design stage of the rollout". ®

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