Millions of ‘Smart Meters’ will be useless if householders switch energy supplier

smart-meters-house-of-commons-photo‘Smart’ household gas and electricity meters are an inefficient way of making ‘small savings’ on consumer energy bills.

This finding in a report by MPs on the Commons Science and Technology Committee also concludes that the government is ‘not being clear’ on the benefits of smart meters.

The Government lists 11 different objectives for its Smart Meters –  project, including saving customers money on energy bills – yet the amount of money saved by individual consumers is expected to be small.

It also adds that the major benefits will be in paving the way for a smarter energy system where we can enhance energy security and reduce pollution by optimising energy generation and supply. 

Dr Tania Mathias, interim Chairman of the Committee, said: “It would be easy to dismiss the smart meter project as an inefficient way of saving a small amount of money on energy bills, but the evidence suggests there are major national benefits, including establishing a smarter, more energy secure grid.

“The Government needs to have more clarity around this so householders are clear about the true benefits.”

She also highlighted the need to ensure that consumers are engaged with the smart meter roll-out so that they can access the benefits:

“The smart meter mass rollout has been delayed, but the Government and suppliers must not skimp on engaging with customers in the rush to fit 50 million meters by 2020.

“The evidence shows that homeowners and businesses need to receive tailored advice about how they can benefit from smart metering. The ‘smartness’ comes from what customers can do with them – ‘fit and forget’ would be a wasted opportunity.”

The Committee also notes that in customers who received meters during the ‘foundation phase’ of the project, which began in 2011, will lose the ‘smart’ functionality if they switch supplier. This will not affect meters in the mass rollout due to start shortly, but the issue with early meters remains unresolved. More than three million smart meters have been deployed so far.

Dr Mathias added: “The Government has known for years that early smart meters can lose their smartness if the customer switches supplier. Ministers merely have an ‘ambition’ to fix this by 2020. Taxpayers will be unimpressed with this situation, and timely action is needed.”

This is the Committee’s first “evidence check” report. It set the Government the task of preparing statements on the evidence base for nine policy areas, but the results were mixed.

There were “regrettable” frustrating delays in the Government responding in some cases, and Ministers were unable to supply statements in two areas where a lead department could not be identified.

The quality of some Government responses raising concerns about the Government’s ability to communicate the evidence behind its policies. At best, this suggests that some departments lack experience of communicating their evidence base. At worst, it could mean that some policies lack the necessary evidence.

MP Mathias added: “Evidence should be at the heart of Government policy. It is a serious concern that the Government struggled to respond to our requests for evidence, and this can weaken trust in the Government.

“Whitehall needs to improve how it communicates its evidence base and hopefully will learn from this exercise.”

The Committee used the Institute for Government’s Evidence Transparency Framework to assess the Government’s evidence check statements.


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