The Smart Meter Bill, contained within the Queen’s speech, purports to reinforce the requirement on suppliers to install a smart meter to all household and business energy meters by 2020. The new bill however introduces two changes:

  • It extends the government’s powers to make changes to smart meter regulations by five years to ensure that the rollout is delivered effectively; and
  • introduces a Special Administration Regime to ensure the continuing operation of the national smart meter service if a provider becomes insolvent.

The proposed extension will enable the deadline for suppliers to install smart meters to be extended by up to five years. This news has been welcomed by suppliers as it has been extensively reported that the equipment and resource to deliver the rollout by 2020 is simply not there. Whilst the government announced the bill ‘in order to help deliver more transparent energy bills and allow households to monitor their use effectively’, the reality is that, without revision of the deadline, suppliers are simply set up to fail under existing rules.

By proposing a bill merely allowing for an extension, the government has sent a clear signal of its intention but has effectively avoided the inevitable declaration that the 2020 deadline was never a realistic goal in the first place.

The implicit extension to the rollout may have pleased suppliers but the same cannot be said for consumers. Suppliers claim that delays to critical infrastructure and lack of access to resources have increased costs which drive up customer bills. Delays to the smart meter cut-off date will, of course, make sure that the rollout is delivered effectively but it is disappointing that all energy users will not realise the benefits of the technology that will enable improved energy management for all until nearer 2025. The government’s own figures suggest those delays have helped wipe £415m from net projected benefits of smart meters to date.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has reported that there is no change to the timetable for the offer of a smart meter to all consumers by 2020 but removing the wording from the original mandate to ‘take all reasonable steps’ seems to be the route by which suppliers will be able to extend the actual installation beyond 2020. Industry body Energy UK has stated that suppliers remain committed to the offer of a smart meter to all homes and businesses by 2020. Whilst the Government cannot be seen to take the pressure off suppliers, amending the requirement to simply offer a smart meter provides sufficient leeway in terms of the physical installation without a potentially embarrassing step down.

Whatever the outcome, it seems that the only losers here are consumers and, of course, the environment… yet again!

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