£11bn smart meter scheme still way behind schedule, latest stats show
Quarterly release showing slow progress comes as one expert says of the roll-out: 'I suspect that ministers wish it would quietly die.'
An ambitious project to install smart meters in every home in Britain by 2020 is running way behind schedule, with only around 10 per cent of the devices now operational in households nationwide, it has been revealed.
The latest statistics on smart meter installation were released today by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and are likely to prompt fresh argument about the future of the multi-billion-pound scheme.
They follow reports of the devices ceasing to work when people switched energy supplier, meaning some had to be swapped for older, “dumb” meters, which will in turn have to be upgraded eventually.
There have also been further delays to the project, contracted by the government to Capita, to create a centralised hub for smart metering.
The latest quarterly release by the government shows that, as of the end of 2016, 4.9 million gas and electricity meters were being operated in smart mode by large energy suppliers.
A further 83,700 were being operated in this fashion by small energy suppliers across homes in Britain.
By law, 50 million smart gas and electricity meters must be rolled-out by 2020.
However, critics of the programme, which is mandated by the European Union, cite serious concerns about security.
They say hackers could potentially switch off the electricity supply remotely as part of a “nightmare scenario” that could plunge the economy into chaos.
European agency Europol has previously stated that the meters, which were first championed in the UK by Ed Miliband when he was Energy Secretary, may be vulnerable to attack from terrorists or hostile nation states.
Following an EU directive, the meters are currently being installed across all member states – despite strong opposition in countries including Germany and the Netherlands.
The programme in Britain is unlikely to be affected by the Brexit process, despite calls from critics for it to be halted.
Professor Ross Anderson, a respected engineering and security specialist at the Cambridge University, today declared that smart metering “isn't working and cannot work”.
He added: “It does, however, have support in all main political parties and I suspect that ministers wish it would quietly die.”
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has insisted that “proportionate, practical security controls” were put in place by the government to protect smart meters from attack by hackers.
The NCSC added that the system “strikes the best balance between security and business needs, while meeting broader policy and national security objectives”.
The logic behind the roll-out was that the meters would make it easier for households to see how much electricity they were using day-to-day, and to take steps to conserve energy.
From the point of view of energy retailers, there would also be benefits in that customers who defaulted on payments could be switched remotely to a prepay tariff.
The mammoth cost of the scheme is justified by the government on the basis that it is expected to yield £18bn in savings for customers. It is also supposed to make it easier for people to switch suppliers to get a better deal.
Professor Dieter Helm, an Oxford academic who specialises in energy policy, published a paper earlier this month in which he warned that assumptions about people’s behaviour, which underpinned the rationale for smart meters, were flawed, however.
“Most people are not like ministers. They do not want to spend their time checking data from their meters, and they do not want to shop around on the internet for deals,” Helm wrote.
Smart meters measuring water usage are also being issued to households in some areas of the UK.