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Smart meter rollout 'should be reviewed' say MPs after latest delay

Sam Meadows
Smart meters are supposed to revolutionise our energy system - E+

The smart meter roll out should be reviewed in the wake of the latest four-year delay, MPs and campaigners have said.

The Government yesterday announced plans to extend the beleaguered programme by another four years after bowing to pressure from the industry watchdogs that its original deadline was overly ambitious.

It now wants there to be a further 14 million meters installed by the end of next year with suppliers given until 2024 to carry out the bulk of remaining work. Currently almost a third of households have one of the devices.

The costs of the rollout have risen by a further £2bn to £13bn, a new cost-benefit analysis found, and MPs have called for a review into the way the rollout has been implemented.

Dr Alan Whitehead, Labour’s shadow energy secretary, said: “The Government has made a calamitous mess of this rollout from the start, despite smart meters being critically important to our future energy system. 

“Other countries have simply asked network operators to give these out street by street, whereas this government's complicated market obligation has clearly failed.

“Just extending the deadline and pressing the same buttons that don’t connect to anything is not a viable approach to get a full roll out of smart meters. Labour would review the methodology and ensure the rest are rolled out by effective methods.”

Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat MP who was energy secretary in the coalition government, said: “The last four years of the smart meter programme have seen dither and delay by successive Tory ministers. 

“The Conservatives’ failure to drive this change forward is quite scandalous and there is a strong case to review their failure to do so.”

Richard Neudegg, of Uswitch, the price comparison website, said it may have made more sense to give the power networks control over the rollout from the start. He added: “A review of the roll-out could help if there are clear benefits to consumers in the form of lower costs or getting the installation finished sooner.  

"However, we are where we are and it could be too late to change direction now without causing further upheaval and expense."  

There are now 16 million smart meters in households around the country. The devices can display energy usage in real-time pounds and pence and send readings to suppliers automatically.

However, many have run into problems after consumers switch energy firm to save money. A fix to this issue is under way.

From the end of next year, energy companies will face strict annual targets for the number of smart meters installed, risking fines if these are missed.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said smart meters are vital to building a clean energy system and that they will result in savings worth £5.6bn on energy bills over the next 15 years – equivalent to £250 per family.

A Government source pointed out that the decision to have suppliers lead the rollout was made by the Labour administration in 2009. He said changing course now would incur significant additional costs.