The government has pushed back the deadline for its £13bn smart energy meter rollout by four years to 2024 after critics said the project had “no realistic prospect” of meeting its deadline.
The government has bowed to pressure to extend the deadline after a damning report from the National Audit Office said households might be forced to pay £500m more than expected after a string of delays affecting the software underpinning the network.
Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said the deadline extension was “a commonsense move that is good news for consumers”. “It’s been clear for a long time that the 2020 deadline wouldn’t be met and today’s announcement finally recognises that reality,” she said.
Guy said the extra time would give energy suppliers the chance to fix technical problems that have dogged the programme, and for consumers to avoid aggressive sales techniques designed to persuade wary customers to have a smart meter fitted. As of June 2019, there were about 15m smart and advanced meters operating in Great Britain. In total, the programme hopes to fit up to 53m meters in homes and small businesses across the UK.
Smart Energy GB, the company set up to spearhead the smart meter campaign, said it would have liked the rollout to have been faster and easier, “but national infrastructure upgrades come with significant challenges”.
Robert Cheesewright of Smart Energy GB said it was crucial the rollout be completed because it could deliver a nearly £20bn financial benefit to Britain. “We welcome government providing a clear timetable for this. The financial and environmental benefits for households and the country far outweigh the costs by billions of pounds,” he said.
More than 85% of people with smart meters have found ways to reduce their energy consumption, according to surveys by Smart Energy GB. In addition, new energy tariffs for homes with electric vehicle chargers or solar battery systems can deliver significant savings by using the smart meter to automatically store energy when it is cheapest, to be used when market prices are high.
New analysis by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy based on the longer time period promises slightly lower costs and a financial benefit of £19.6bn.
Ian Duncan, the minister for climate change, said the replacing of traditional gas and electricity meters was a vital upgrade to national energy infrastructure that would help the UK become a carbon-neutral economy.
“We are proposing strict yearly installation targets for suppliers from 2021. This will deliver even greater benefits for households and reduce emissions,” he said.