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News 14 August 2018 Updated 6 November 2020

Smart meters: improve installation to reap the full benefits

Energy firms are scrambling to install smart meters to meet the Government target of full installation by 2020.

This time pressure may be leading to poor service in the installation of these meters, with Citizens Advice Bureau reporting over 3,000 complaints to their service over the last year.  As a result, they’re calling on the Government to push back the deadline until 2023. The Government have pointed out that this number of complaints is a tiny percentage of all the meters installed each year. But it’s clear that, at current rate of progress, suppliers are unlikely to hit the 2020 target.

At Energy Saving Trust, we feel it is important smart meters are installed as soon as possible, to allow people to receive the benefits they bring of increased control over energy in the home. Our main concern is that households are able to use smart meters to maximise their energy savings.

There are two main dimensions that need to be in place, to allow for energy saving:

  1. the provision of energy saving advice at the time the meters are installed – to encourage householders to think about energy use and use the in-home display to make energy savings.
  2. ensuring that we make rapid progress in installing second generation smart meters, which will allow households to access new services to help them manage their energy use.

Providing energy advice alongside smart meter installation

Energy Saving Trust welcomes smart meters. We think they’re a key element if we’re going to achieve smart, more energy efficient, lower carbon homes.  They enable householders to see in real time exactly how much energy they’re using through an in-home display. But probably more importantly, smart meters enable a range of new energy services, now and in the future. These include on-line tools and services to help us all manage our energy better and different tariffs that will reward households for using energy at times of less demand on the grid.

Installation standards for smart meters are set under the Smart Meter Installation Code of Practice (SMICoP), which is agreed between Ofgem and the energy suppliers. This covers issues around how energy companies should engage householders as meters are installed – including a specific requirement for suppliers to provide energy advice at the point of installation. But there’s some evidence that suppliers haven’t been fulfilling this requirement well. Ofgem and the energy suppliers updated SMICoP recently, to require provision of tailored energy advice at the time of installation.

Second generation smart meters

Another issue for the public around smart meters is what type of meter they receive. Most installations of smart meters to date have been first generation meters – known as SMETS1. These offer the main benefits of smart meters – the in-home display and no need for meter-readers. But they’re not easily switched between suppliers and they won’t necessarily enable all the future data services.

Energy firms must not be allowed to use any delay to push back the installation of second-generation meters (SMETS2). The Government has allowed energy companies to continue to install their stockpile of older models (SMETS1), so relatively few SMETS2 meters are currently being installed.

The newer models provide far more benefits to people, as they can be immediately plugged into the Data Communications Company (DCC). This allows access to other services, including retaining smart functionality when customers switch providers – something that has been a focus for complaint with older models.

Continuing to install SMETS1 meters, means more customers will have problems with switching as it will be some time (maybe years) before these meters are ‘enrolled’ or configured with the Data Communications Company. Some SMETS1 meters may not be suitable to link up at all, leaving these customers with a meter that is smart in name only.

In May, the Government consulted on requiring suppliers to take more rapid steps to ensure all smart meters can be connected to the Data Communications Company: this would require energy companies to enrol SMETS1 meters as a compulsory requirement, and replace the SMETS1 meters that go ‘dumb’ with SMETS2 meters.

Energy Saving Trust supported these proposals – see our full consultation response here –  but the Government haven’t yet officially said whether they will proceed with the plans.

Find out more…

Last updated: 6 November 2020