Energy firms ‘don’t have a prayer’ of installing smart meters by 2020 deadline

31 January 2018

Energy firms “don’t have a prayer” of installing smart meters in time for 2020, the chief executive of one small energy firm has told Moneywise.

Smart meters are the energy gadget being offered and installed in every household that wants one across England, Scotland and Wales by 2020.

By the end of the programme, which began in 2016, around 53 million smart meters will be fitted in over 30 million premises, according to the government – which is spearheading the scheme.

The idea behind them is that they should make energy bills far more accurate than at present where they are estimated, and that they’ll help households to better manage their energy usage, save money, and reduce emissions.

But while the industry has gotten behind the scheme and 11 energy providers Moneywise spoke to, including the Big Six, say they’re working hard to meet the government’s deadline, there are concerns that the target set isn’t achievable.

2020 deadline is ‘ambitious’

Mr Stewart, who founded renewable energy provider Green Energy, believes the industry “doesn’t have a prayer” of installing meters by 2020. He explains that as Green Energy is a small supplier, it needs to ‘piggy-back’ off Big Six orders for second generation meters – known as SMETS2 meters – as it’s not cost- effective for manufacturers to supply the small number of meters it needs. He says he’s “hamstrung” by this reliance on larger companies making orders.

“There aren’t enough smart meters to go around and they’re slow to get hold of when you’re a smaller provider,” says Mr Stewart.

“Plus, there aren’t enough engineers to install them; we keep turning down customers. As an industry, I don’t think we’ve got a prayer of installing them by 2020.”

This worry of getting smart meters installed by 2020 is one echoed by other providers. British Gas’s parent company Centrica has labelled the government’s 2020 target as “ambitious”. In particular it warns that the government's proposed energy price cap may "seriously impact the smart meter roll-out", and "in a worst-case scenario, it could seriously slow or even halt progress".

Ovo Energy meanwhile has also labelled the government’s 2020 target as “ambitious”, although it adds that it's working hard to reach it.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Scottish Power told Moneywise: “Due to the delays with the Data Communications Company [the national smart meter communications network] becoming operational, the target dates will be a challenge for the whole industry.”

Only this month (January 2018), the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) extended the starting point from which SMETS2 installations will count towards suppliers’ targets from 13 July to 5 October, due to providers not being ready.  

A BEIS spokesperson says: “We have taken this step to ensure that customers can continue to feel the benefits of smart meters and suppliers can be completely ready to roll out SMETS2. This will not affect the rollout of the programme, or the 2020 final deadline.”

Households pressured into getting meters

However, delays to the rollout have seemingly resulted in energy suppliers using pressure to mislead consumers into getting a smart meter.

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) says it’s seen complaints of households being given so-called ‘deemed appointments’ – where suppliers say they’re coming to install smart meters without giving consumers a chance to opt out, as well as communications about smart meters omitting the fact they’re not compulsory.

Steve Playle, lead office for energy at the CTSI told Moneywise: “The industry is under great pressure to install meters by the 2020 deadline, but they’re slipping behind, and as such, they’re finding more and more ‘interesting’ ways to get people to sign up.”

As a result, the CTSI has written a letter to industry body Energy UK asking it to remind suppliers not to give the impression to households that smart meters are obligatory.

For more on this issue, see Households pressured into getting smart meters.  


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

This technology only benefits the energy supplier to take money from your account when it wants to, not when you want to! Its not rocket science to read a meter nor know that the more electrical apparatus you have on will lead to higher bills. Interference from these meters can also cause problems with other wireless products you may have so if you don't benefit, don't have them.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I had a smart meter installed by British Gas three years ago but when I transferred to NPower they wouldn’t accept readings from it and neither will my present supplier Igloo,so what is the point of having one installed.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

This is another higher cost to the consumer which rarely benefits them, only the provider. If the consumer can’t be bothered to read their meters once a month then they deserve to get estimated bills. The facts are that they depend too much on connectivity issues which make them unreliable and it would appear that they are not interchangeable with different suppliers. Read the forums on smart meters.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm refusing a smart meter at least until the next generation are ready. Seems pointless to install the old ones when they can prevent you switching (or require a new one when switching) when the next generation will be available soon.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Interestingly we moved into a new build three years ago which has first generation smart meters installed. It seems that these cannot be read any more. Trying to get our current provider to change them for the latest generation smart meter has been impossible!!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The smart meter rollout programme leaves a lot to be desired. Some customers are being pressurised into accepting the new meters, whilst smaller suppliers complain that they can't get them. The DCC network remains largely unused and customers lose smart functionality when changing provider. As National Grid own the distribution network, why isn't the provision of meters their responsibility? This could have enabled specification standardisation avoiding the unsatisfactory situation which exists now.

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