United Kingdom

Smart meter rollout falls further behind with one million fewer installations because of Covid-19

The smart meter roll out has been hit by Covid-19 as the latest figures showed more than a million fewer installations than expected so far in 2020.

Statistics published this morning showed that 850,000 meters were placed in British homes between July and September, bringing the total for the year to just under two million.

In the same period last year more than three million of the devices were installed, meaning the programme, which has already been severely delayed, risks falling even further behind.

The Government blamed the coronavirus pandemic for the setback as engineers were unable to visit customers except for emergencies for much of the year. It noted that September saw the first year-on-year increase in monthly installations since the pandemic began.

Smart meters are supposed to help customers save time and money by displaying usage in pounds and pence and sending readings automatically to suppliers.

However, experts argue they are necessary to help the grid manage demand as society becomes increasingly electrified. 

Plans were recently sent to regulator Ofgem which would allow firms to turn off large appliances such as electric vehicle chargers or central heating systems powered by heat pumps. Both of these are a major component of the Prime Minister’s green energy plan.

Dr Jonny Marshall, a researcher at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: "The rollout is behind both the targets set [by the Government] and the targets that the energy sector needs. 

“It's slow progress and they need to make the system a lot more forward looking."

He added that the public needed to be convinced of the benefits of the meters as their true potential is yet to be recognised. 

“At the moment people have a smart meter but all it is is a meter with a screen,” he said. “Not many people use it to lower their bills, they just notice it goes red when they put the kettle on. They need to be shown the benefits.”

Peter Earl, head of energy at switching website Comparethemarket.com, said the project had already been delayed before the pandemic hit amid a “backlog of delays and botched rollouts”. He said the possibility of a meter “going dumb” had likely deterred people.

Iagan MacNeil of Smart Energy GB, the body tasked with promoting the rollout, said: "The climate crisis isn’t going anywhere during this pandemic and we still need to act to ensure that our energy system is smart, clean and resilient for the future.

 “With varying levels of lockdown across Great Britain it is only expected to see installation numbers remain low, but as restrictions are lifted we expect to see a return to normal installation rates.”

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