Smart meters are revolutionising our energy system.
And when delivering the programme involves visiting and installing equipment in every household across Great Britain, you can expect scrutiny to match the scale of the challenge – and rightly so, to ensure costs to consumers are minimised and customers receive a positive experience.
Nobody’s denying there have been – and remain – challenges. However recently we have unfortunately seen a number of negative media stories containing inaccuracies and claims that simply aren’t true. So, it is important to ensure we have an honest conversation with the public about smart meters, based on the facts – and make sure we don’t lose sight of the huge benefits that smart meters will bring now and in the future as we digitalise the whole system.
In fact, with 11 million meters already installed and 400,000 meters being installed every month, many homes and businesses across the country are already gaining a better understanding of their energy use which spurs them to save money on their energy bills – one supplier has found that their smart customers are already saving around £32 per year on their bills and we also know that 82% of such customers are taking steps to reduce energy consumption.
So it really isn’t surprising that 8 in ten people with a smart meter say they would recommend one to their friends and family. Inaccurate billing is by far the number one driver of complaints in the energy sector and smart meters get rid of that at a stroke – so again suppliers’ own research is showing that complaints are falling as a result of the accurate billing that smart meters deliver.
One of the myths we have seen recently is that you can’t switch with a smart meter or that they acting as a barrier to switching. In fact quite the contrary - according to Ofgem, switching levels are higher for people with a smart meter compared to those without. While some functionality may be lost temporarily when a customer with first generation smart meter (SMETS1) changes supplier, these meters begin to move over to the central communications system from the end of this year. This will ensure the meter retains full functionality when customers switch. Worth stressing that is the long-planned solution in contrast to some of the untested and unfeasible alternatives that have been floated this week.
As well as these improvements smart meters can bring to the everyday energy customer, there are also what you might call the ‘macro’ benefits – the ability for the future energy system to make the most efficient use of the power provided from an increasingly diverse range of energy sources. This is also something this will benefit the customer and where time of use tariffs can play a role. It is for the industry, with the needs of consumers front and centre, to innovate and deliver service that saves customers money, reduces strain on the grid and does so in the most convenient way possible.
It’s probably not surprising that some were quicker to highlight tht energy will be more expensive during peak hours than they were to point out they will be cheaper at other times! Peak and off-peak pricing is a commonly found in many markets and they can really benefit customers. And spreading demand across the day reduces the overall amount of generation required - which saves us all money. That’s just common sense but again we must ensure it is done in a manner by which all consumers can easily benefit directly, it must be as simple as possible.
Undeniably there remain challenges delivering such a complex yet critical national infrastructure programme. Replacing meters that have been installed in a whole variety of different places and fashions around every household in Great Britain is not a task that can be overstated. But we mustn’t be diverted from the prize.
Smart meters will play a key part in a future energy system which is taking shape before our eyes and will be very different from the one we have previously known.
It’s why we will continue to work with the Government and other stakeholders across the sector to deliver the programme in a way that keeps costs down for customers and ensures that millions more enjoy the benefits of smart meters.
Chief Executive, Energy UK