UK parliamentary committee critical of communications about smart meters


Following an inquiry launched in March, a UK parliamentary committee said that the government has not being clear enough with consumers about the benefits of smart meters.

A report by the science and technology committee found that the government lists 11 different objectives for its ambitious smart metering programme. These include savings for customers, although the amount of money saved by individuals is expected to be small. The major benefit, says the committee, will be the creation of a smarter energy system that optimises energy generation and supply, lowers emissions and helps energy security. The report therefore concludes that more should be done to communicate the national benefits alongside the potential savings for individuals.

The programme requires energy suppliers to offer 53 million smart meters to homes and small businesses by 2020. The first phase began in 2013 and consisted in the installation of some 3.6 million devices. The second phase, the mass rollout, has been delayed several times and is expected to start in the coming weeks. The cost of the entire operation is estimated at some GBP10.9 billion, borne by consumers through the energy bill.

Smart meters should allow people to better control their energy use, see what type of energy they consume and how much it costs, thus becoming more efficient and saving money. These tools also provide the foundation for smart grids and real time demand-side response. This will help reduce energy consumption and balance the network, encouraging the uptake of renewables.

The inquiry was meant to scrutinize how smart meters will affect consumer behaviour, how they can alter energy usage patterns, what are the net savings for individuals and how data can be used to optimise national energy generation and storage.

“It would be easy to dismiss the smart meter project as an inefficient way of saving a small amount of money on energy bills, but the evidence suggests there are major national benefits, including establishing a smarter, more energy secure grid. The government needs to have more clarity around this so householders are clear about the true benefits,” said Dr Tania Mathias, interim chair of the committee.

Sacha Deshmukh, Chief Executive of Smart Energy GB, the agency in charge of the rollout, responded: “Over the past year, Smart Energy GB has brought together British and international experts from business, technology and government to discuss the forward-thinking innovations that a digitised energy system will enable, from new time-of-use tariffs and a more resilient energy grid, to smarter cities and new innovations using energy data. We agree with the committee that it is essential to communicate these wider benefits of Britain’s digital energy transformation and are doing so strongly through our campaigns.”

The report said that consumers need to be better engaged in the rollout through tailored advice, as the “smartness” of the programme comes from what customers can do with the devices.

As smart meters use wireless technologies to enable two-way communication with utilities, the inquiry also explored issues of security. While being confident that security is being taken seriously, MPs concluded that “the government will need to do more to convince and reassure customers that the technology is safe from being hacked.

Claudia Delpero

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