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Households saying no to smart meters will mean deadline is missed, says report

Sam Meadows
Smart meters are touted as a key tool in the fight against climate change - Getty Images Contributor

The smart meter rollout will miss its 2024 deadline because the government is underestimating how many people are saying no, a report has claimed.

The project, which aims to see one of the devices in every household, was delayed by four years earlier this Autumn and the Government now wants energy firms to have reached 85pc of customers by the end of 2024.

But a report commissioned by the industry trade body Energy UK suggests that in the “best case scenario”, suppliers will only manage to give 68pc of their customers smart meters by that date.

In a separate response to the Government’s consultation on its plans for the £13.5bn roll-out after 2020 Energy UK warned that “consumer appetite to proactively seek the installation of a smart meter has plateaued well below the levels previously hoped”.

The devices are not compulsory and many households have proved unwilling amid confusion as to the benefits of the devices and fears over the security of customer data.

Smart meters were first introduced to the public as a way to save money, but this is not possible without changes in behaviour which could reduce usage.

Energy UK’s response warned that hard targets put on suppliers would not solve the underlying problems of the roll-out. 

It said: “There is the prospect that suppliers will face significant financial penalties for non-compliance of legal obligations as a result of factors outside their control.”

Speaking to MPs on the Energy Committee last month, Lord Duncan of Springbank, the Climate Change Minister, acknowledged the difficulties in convincing everyone to accept a meter.

“It is slightly easier to pick the low-hanging fruit,” he said. “The challenge is once you get into that 15pc [after the target has been met] and that’s where we need to redouble our efforts and that’s why we are examining now how we can move into that category of individuals who are unwilling.

“There are those who don’t know about smart meters, but there is another group who are perhaps not minded to have this sort of technology in their home, fearful as they might be around privacy or data management or simply the intrusion of having somebody come into their house.”

He added: “I don’t think it is a perception issue and I think people do begin to appreciate in the short term where they can make the savings.”

He also warned that the cost of maintaining a traditional meter could soon make it uneconomical to reject the new devices.

Around 16.5 million smart meters have been installed so far, allowing their owners to track their energy usage in real time with the goal of reducing power consumption, and therefore bills. 

However, the vast majority are an old version which risk losing many of their functions if a customer switches supplier. They are also not operable in vast swathes of the country, particularly Scotland and the north, due to network and connectivity issues.

The devices are touted as a vital tool to combat climate change and achieve the Government’s target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Eventually they will connect to a “smart” energy grid which will allow for better management of national power consumption.

A spokesman for Energy UK said: “As outlined in our consultation response, based on independent research, we believe the current targets are not achievable without further changes. 

“It is our shared ambition to ensure that as many households as possible can benefit from smart meters.  That’s why we have suggested a number of proactive policies the Government should implement quickly to drive greater consumer uptake of smart meters