What’s going wrong with the UK’s smart meter rollout?

What’s going wrong with the UK’s smart meter rollout?

New figures show that smart meter installation numbers are down again. How can the powers that be get the rollout back on track?

was 2019 – over years ago. However, a combination of technical issues, budget problems, public apathy and a global pandemic has meant that we’re still a long way from getting a smart meter in every UK home and business. What’s more, there are no signs of a plan to meet the current target for completion at the end of 2025.

The UK’s smart meter rollout is flagging while some of our European neighbours are already at 100% smart meter take-up. What can be done? Some industry experts have proposed solutions, but will any of them work? In this article, we’ll examine the latest figures and the proposed remedies. Could anything get the UK’s smart meter rollout back on track?

Decline in installations

Barring the immediate aftermath of the COVID lockdown, the number of smart meter installations is at its lowest since 2016. In the first quarter of 2024, only 780,000 meters were installed in UK homes or businesses. That’s 10% down from the previous quarter and 11% down on the first quarter of 2023.

The vast majority of these installations (747,300 vs 33,531) were in homes rather than businesses. 10% fewer gas meters were installed compared to the previous quarters, compared to 9% fewer electricity meters. 

So, why the drop? One energy supplier said that it’s harder than ever to get meters installed. Suppliers now have to put more effort into booking appointments and ensure the customers are at home when the engineer visits. There is also a shortage of installers in some areas.

To the outside observer, it certainly appears that everyone who wanted a smart meter has got one now. The people who don’t have smart meters now are not interested in getting them. Perhaps it’s because they’re not aware of the benefits (no manual meter readings, exclusive tariffs, or a nudge towards saving energy). On the other hand, perhaps they simply don’t want a smart meter.

Technical issues

In addition, many UK smart meter users aren’t able to gain the full range of benefits from their smart meters due to technical problems:

  • Almost 4 million installed smart meters are not connected properly and are still operating like traditional meters
  • 20% of households still have to submit meter readings manually, even though they have a smart meter
  • Almost one-third of smart meter users have experienced problems with their in-home display unit

Consumer experts have complained that suppliers have been too slow to address technical problems with smart meters, meaning millions are missing out on potential energy savings.

Comparison to Europe

The UK’s smart meter rollout is losing pace, but how does it compare to similar European nations? 

Unfortunately, we’re lagging well behind many of our neighbours. The proportion of UK homes with a smart meter currently sits at 64%. However, in France, it’s 93%. Spain has already completed its rollout, achieving 100% penetration. Italy reached 100% coverage with its first generation of smart meters. For second-generation meters, the number is 82%.

Another interesting statistic to compare is the proportion of homes that use mobile apps to control energy use in their home (via their smart meters).

  • Spain – 31%
  • UK – 20%
  • Italy – 12%

So, while a larger proportion of Italians than Britons have smart meters, they’re less likely to use them to their full potential.

Proposed solutions

What can the UK government and energy industry do to address this decline in installation numbers and get the rollout running again?

Several experts have proposed solutions. For example, one supplier recommended that the government make it mandatory to have a smart meter installed if you have devices installed that put a strain on the electricity network, such as solar panels or electric vehicle charging points. 

Another possible solution is a smart meter code of practice for energy suppliers, which would make them more accountable, committing them to deal with complaints and fix issues more effectively. If the plan goes through, Ofgem would rank suppliers on performance metrics, effectively naming and shaming suppliers that don’t hit their targets.

While this code of practice could mean that more consumers get to reap the rewards of having a smart meter, it doesn’t solve the problem of declining installation numbers. In addition, given the impending general election and a possible change of government, the code of practice may not even happen.

Looking to the future

It’s clear that smart meters are a good thing. They help people use less energy, while taking the hassle out of meter readings. People who have them in their homes tend to like them, with two-thirds of smart meter users saying they’re highly satisfied. 

However, the powers that be must do more to get more meters in people’s homes – and get the ones that are already installed working correctly.

Perhaps then, the rollout can get back on track.

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