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.