Smart meters may not help slash energy bills

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It's unclear if new smart meters will make any difference to reducing energy bills, says the National Audit Office (NAO).

The meters will be put into every home in Britain by 2020 and will show consumers how much gas and electricity is used in the house in an attempt to save money and reduce emissions.

Information will be instantly sent to your energy provider, putting an end to estimated bills and giving customers real time information on the energy they use.

This new initiative, from the Department of Energy will cost around £11.3 billion. The department suggests it could save households around £23 a year.

More research needed

However, the NAO has disputed the efficiency of the scheme.

It has called for more research to be done before the system is rolled out across the country and says there is "limited evidence" of how much and for how long consumer behaviour will change as a result.

It thinks savings will only be felt if energy companies pass these on to the customer – which at the moment is unclear.

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Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, says the benefits of proceeding with this major technological and logistical undertaking are still uncertain.

"Large-scale projects of this kind can take on a momentum of their own and so, along the way, there should be clear decision points at which the department will need to review costs to consumers, benefits and risks and judge whether to carry on as originally planned or significantly change direction," she says.

Cut the cost of your energy bills

The rollout of the meters will take place in two phases. During the foundation stage, which began in March, the government started working with industry and consumer groups to ensure all the necessary groundwork was done for the second stage, the mass rollout which will start in early 2014 and is expected to be finished by 2019.

At the launch of the smart meter scheme, energy minister Charles Hendry, said: "[They] will enable us to modernise the electricity system over the coming years and create the smart grids we will need to bring new low carbon energy sources online, and handle much higher demand for electricity as we progressively electrify transport and heating."

Your Comments

The reports that the costs of the proposed nationwide smart meter roll-out could escalate are concerning, but that is not the only worry. Look at the numbers facing the industry today. Almost 30 million meters to replace in five years equates to 20,000 new installations a day. Too often, a meter fitter cannot complete a job because of various obstacles, whether it be incorrect pipework, located at height or in a confined space. Industry experience of fitting meters indicates that roughly 20 percent of jobs are aborted and in some instances, it has taken up to five visits to complete the installation. The installation of a smart meter can take anything from an hour to a day. This means anything from 4,000 to 28,000 man hours could potentially be wasted daily!

However, all is not lost for energy organisations, as a sophisticated approach using mobile photography can provide substantial benefits to the installation process. A meter reader (note not fitter) can now quickly photograph an existing meter and have it automatically uploaded, with essential contextual information, to a website. This instantly brings visual intelligence back to Head Office, so they can give the fitter the information required to ensure he is equipped with the right tools to install the smart meter on the first visit. It brings a level of control that was previously lacking across the industry and has a significant impact on the level of quality of work. Having clear visibility of what to expect will slash the number of aborted jobs, which will in turn be better for the environment (as less travelling back and forth reduces carbon emissions) and will keep the energy industry on course to complete this roll-out on time and within budget.

Andy Hutt, CEO, triOpsis