The government won’t meet its deadline of having a smart meter in every home by 2020, while costs are set to soar by over £500 million, according to a new report by the National Audit Office.
Smart meters are due to be rolled out to houses in England, Scotland and Wales by 2020.
As part of the £11 billion scheme every home has been offered a free smart meter to help people save energy and money.
The idea behind them is that they should make energy bills far more accurate than at present where they are estimated.
Households will also be able to see their energy consumption in real time, allowing them to see the impact of different electrical items and be more conscious of where they are using energy needlessly.
However, the watchdog says that technical delays in the installation of second generation meters - or SMETS2s - means the 2020 deadline will not be met.
The NAO says that even though second generation smart meters were not ready, the government decided to rush ahead with the smart meter programme anyway by using inferior first generation meters (SMETS1).
However, consumers have had huge problems with the first generation meters. Around 70% of SMETS1 meters stop when people switch supplier because the new supplier is unable to communicate with the meter. By contrast, SMETS2s allow you to switch without any problems.
The NAO says that due to these problems the true cost of the rollout has soared by £500 million from the original £11 billion figure – the equivalent to an extra £17 per household.
There have also been reports that households have been pressured into getting smart meters, while those who do want one may suffer delays.
Head of regulation at uSwitch.com, Richard Neudegg, says the government’s rush to install roll-out meters roll-out before the technology was ready means consumers will ultimately end up “paying the price”.
Mr Neudegg says: “Households will now be questioning whether the smart meter programme has been fully thought through. The NAO estimates the programme is going to cost energy customers at least an extra half a billion pounds, and says the government isn’t even monitoring whether people are actually saving energy as a result.”
He warns that up to nine million households could see their first generation smart meters “ripped off” their walls and replaced at considerable cost and inconvenience.
He says: “It’s time for the government to come up with a realistic timetable for resolving these technical delays if it wants consumers to really believe in the benefits smart meters will eventually bring.”
The NAO points out that as people will only see the benefits from smart meters in the long term, an urgent rollout was not required.
It was not until July 2017 the second generation meters were first installed, over three years later than first planned.
In total, energy suppliers installed 12.5 million first generation meters, 7.1 million more than originally planned.
The NAO warns that if the 2020 deadline is not met, energy suppliers will continue to underinvest in the rollout.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, says: “Costs are rising, and timescales slipping, but smart meters can still succeed over time. The Department of Business and Energy has taken most of the decisions that matter on the programme so far.”
He adds: “They now need to take responsibility for getting it back on track and protecting the interests of consumers who will ultimately meet the bills.”
The only people to have benefitted frm this truly are the meter manufacturers and contractors who get paid to install them. At an average cost of some £500 to each home, (though "free" at point of installation) these meters are pushing up the overall total cost to us of our energy when a bit more educational information could have encouraged people to read their own meters and understand how usage affects their bills.