The UK’s controversial smart meter programme will only succeed in saving consumers cash if people are made aware of the benefits, says Rob Smith, head of policy and public affairs at Smart Energy GB.
Some 53 million smart meters are due to be installed in residences and small businesses by the end of 2020, at an estimated cost of £11bn.
So far 3.5 million have been installed. The government has said it expects the scheme will save £17bn.
However, the technical delivery of the national platform behind smart meters – which is the responsibility of the Capita-run Data Communications Company – has been subject to heavy criticism.
The DCC in particular has been accused of mishandling the delivery of the communications infrastructure for smart meters’ readings linked to energy suppliers. That IT system was supposed to go live last month but has been delayed until the autumn.
Smart Energy GB is a separate body responsible for engaging with the public over the physical installations. Speaking to The Register at the TM Smart City InFocus 2016 event in Yinchuan, China, Smith said the delays to the DCC infrastructure will not stop people from realising the benefits of smart meters once they are installed.
"Our role in terms of consumer engagement, people are still getting the benefit of the smart meter. It will still be the right decision for a consumer to take a smart meter, whether or not the DCC is live or not. Obviously it is really important that they get that right, and it is a massive piece of technology that is subject to testing."
Smart meters are being touted as a means of allowing consumers to switch providers and help people to reduce their energy consumption and switch their usage away from peak times.
However, a report by the World Energy Council earlier this year said there are questions "about whether all locations will have the necessary wireless signal, and whether the price of the smart meters can be recouped by consumers through modified energy use.”
It named a number of countries where similar schemes have failed to work
Smith said: "We believe there is the opportunity to engage people and if you do we can change their behaviour. Where smart meter roll-outs have happened on a big scale in other countries, they haven’t always attempted to engage consumers and give them the data.”
He added: "Will people save money? I suppose it depends on the extent to which people grasp the opportunity.”
Smith cited a survey of smart meters users, which found 80 per cent would recommend them. However, he acknowledged there are some people who might not have had a good experience of their installation.
Last September the Major Projects Authority downgraded the risk of the project from amber/red to amber, suggesting some progress has been made on the DCC scheme.
Smith said: "I do get the sense it is on track, although you would have to speak to DCC. However, I think there has been a shift. If you speak to suppliers now about the number of people coming through their training academies they have people coming out and out on the ground installing I think they are in a much better place.” ®