MPs warn that ‘dumb’ smart meters will save consumers just 20p PER WEEK

Government claims of the savings smart meters will generate for consumers are inflated, out of date and based on a number of questionable assumptions, a group of MPs and peers has said.

A report from a parliamentary group now predicts an annual dual fuel saving of £26 – equivalent to just 20p per week per year per gas or electricity bill.

In a critical report, the 92 MPs and peers also said the government was likely to miss its own deadline to have the £11 billion switchover completed.

The head of the British Infrastructure Group of Parliamentarians (BIG) said the £11 billion scheme to put 53 million devices in 30 million homes and small businesses by 2020 has been “plagued by repeated delays and cost increases”.

High numbers of the devices have also gone “dumb” after installation, the group said, due to problems caused by switching provider or mobile data coverage.

A ‘smart meter’ is designed to replace traditional gas and electricity meters. It automatically sends usage data to suppliers via the mobile phone network, and comes with a display showing users how much energy they are using – and the cost in pounds and pence.

Conservative MP Grant Shapps, chairman of the British Infrastructure Group (BIG), said the programme had been “plagued by repeated delays and cost increases, with suppliers now almost certain to miss the 2020 deadline, and programme benefits likely to be slashed even further”.

Shapps said one of the reasons for the “mess” was that “first generation” smart meters, which do not always work when a customer switches supplier, will continue to be rolled out until next year.

He added: “We need to shift to a reliable timetable, we need to quit installing obsolete old meters… and we need to have the regulator become a lot tougher.”

Household gas and electricity customers are forced to finance the ‘smart meter’ programme by paying a levy on their energy bills, while suppliers have frequently blamed the levy for rising costs.

A spokesman for Smart Energy GB – the UK govt. quango which is promoting the roll out of the smart meters, said: “Smart meters mean an end to estimated billing and give people a greater understanding of their energy use.

“Smart meters also make pre-pay cheaper and more convenient, bringing the way we pay for our energy up-to-date, enabling customers to top up online or over the phone.”

But Shapps added: “The smart meter roll-out is at serious risk of becoming yet another large scale public infrastructure project delivered well over time and budget, and which fails to provide energy customers with a meaningful return on their investment.”

The MPs’ report also found that:

  • More than half of smart meters “go dumb” after switching, meaning they stop communicating with the supplier
  • Up to 10% of smart meters don’t work, because they are in areas where mobile phone signals are not strong enough
  • By the end of the year only 22% of households will have the meters installed, meaning the 2020 deadline is certain to be missed
  • The eventual cost of the programme could even outweigh the benefits
  • The report said the government should now plan for the roll-out to be completed by 2022, and that supply of the new generation of smart meters should be sped up.
  • They also said customers should be automatically compensated for each day their meter malfunctions.
Jane Lucy
Jane Lucy

Jane Lucy, chief executive of  The Labrador smart-switching service, added: “The government pinned a lot on this roll-out, and the delays in the process has been the core root of frustration and cost.

“The other main cause of concern is that half of smart meters that go ‘dumb’ after switching disincentivises the act of switching, which is the main way consumers can save money. 

“We have been told that smart meters will be the saviour of our soaring energy prices, but this is only part of the process. It is disheartening to see this report, but we must remain optimistic that this is the right direction to be heading. Unfortunately, we are doing it far too slowly.”

24 Jul 2018

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