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Smart meter 2020 target: will energy companies meet it?

Which? reveals scale of the smart meter challenge

Smart meters need to be installed by large energy companies at a rate of 24 per minute, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and every single day of the year if they are to complete the roll-out by the 2020 target, exclusive Which? research reveals.

Companies will need to work around the clock collectively to finish installing 53m smart gas and electric meters in homes by the end of the roll-out.

So far they’ve installed more than 8m smart meters in homes. To fit the rest in the remaining time will mean installing around 250,000 a week – that’s more than 1.05m a month.

But 400,000 smart meters are being installed each month, Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry told Parliament earlier this month. So some customers who want smart meters fitted may still be waiting at the end of the roll-out.

Read on to find out about the challenges behind the smart meter roll-out and why it’s delayed. Or find out what smart meters can do for you and about getting a smart meter installed.

Smart meter roll-out challenge

British Gas has installed the most smart meters so far – 4.5m. It told us that it’s installing a smart meter every 25 seconds.

Companies must take ‘all reasonable steps’ to install smart meters; it’s a condition of their licence to supply gas and electricity. They’re under pressure from the regulator, Ofgem, and government, which is linking the end of the prepayment price cap to the smart meter roll-out.

But ‘all reasonable steps’ isn’t clearly defined. Ofgem told us it will judge if suppliers have met this in 2020. ‘It is for suppliers to satisfy themselves that they are taking all reasonable steps into account,’ it told us.

A BEIS spokesperson said: ‘Smart meters are a vital upgrade to our energy infrastructure, with 400,000 smart meters being installed every month, helping consumers save money and better understand their energy use, which is why the Government is committed to energy suppliers offering them to every home and small business by the end of 2020.

‘Energy suppliers’ plans show they intend to double installations in 2018 as large suppliers scale up their operations to provide quick and informative installations of smart meters.’

Find out how many smart meters your energy firm has installed in our guide to the smart meter roll-out.

Not-so-smart delays

The smart meter roll-out has been beset with delays. The wireless network, which allows smart meters to communicate with all energy companies and network operators, launched more than a year later than planned, in November 2016. This squeezes energy companies’ time.

But this isn’t the only reason for delay. Smart Energy GB threw doubt onto suppliers’ ability to keep up with demand for installation. It said it ‘had to generate just over 10 consumers who want a smart meter […] for every one installation that energy suppliers are able to complete’.

Smart Energy GB said energy firms’ technical issues and ability to book and deliver installations were the causes.

Smart meters: will they turn dumb?

These delays mean that smart meters installed are almost exclusively first-generation (SMETS1) meters, which can lose their smart functionality if you switch supplier.

Up to 866,000 smart meters installed in homes could be operating in ‘dumb’ mode. More of you are likely to end up in this position as the government said companies can, if it agrees to their request, install SMETS1 meters for up to six months after the official ‘end date’ in October 2018. But this end date was pushed back, too.

This is to reduce delays while suppliers wait for second-generation (SMETS2) meter deliveries and let them use up SMETS1 meter stock.

Energy meters becoming smarter

SMETS1 meters turning ‘dumb’ should become less of a problem from ‘late 2018’, according to the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). This is when these smart meters will start to be linked remotely to the DCC network so they can work like SMETS2 meters.

The earliest SMETS2 roll-outs will begin in the first half of this year, according to the energy companies we spoke to. These second-generation meters should not have many of the problems of their first-generation counterparts.

Smart meter not working as you expected? Read our smart meter problems and solutions advice.

Which? says

Which? managing director of home products and services, Alex Neill, said: ‘Smart meters have a crucial role to play in making the energy market function fairly and more competitively, as well as giving customers a better switching experience and more control over their energy use and bills.

‘All parties involved in the roll out must address consumer concerns and resolve problems, including keeping the roll-out on track and costs under control.’

(Updated: 14:40, 20 Feb 18, to include quote from BEIS.)

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