The Government’s £11bn programme to install energy smart meters in every home by 2020 risks becoming a “costly failure”, an influential committee of MPs has warned.
Ministers say the meters, which take automatic gas and electricity usage readings and send them back to energy companies, will eliminate estimated billing and encourage households to save money by monitoring their consumption.
But a series of problems with the scheme mean the 2020 target is unlikely to be met, the Energy and Climate Change committee said on Saturday.
“We do not believe that near-universal smart meter roll-out will be achieved by 2020,” it said in a report. “Without significant and immediate changes to the present policy, the programme runs the risk of falling far short of expectations. At worst it could prove to be a costly failure.”
Technical difficulties making the meters work in tall buildings and when customers switch supplier have not yet been resolved, even though the national roll-out is supposed to begin this year, the MPs said.
The installation of communications infrastructure to transmit messages back to suppliers has been repeatedly delayed, while kit that is being installed in homes as standard will not be compatible with smartphone apps, despite many consumers wanting to use their phones to monitor their usage.
The energy industry may struggle to recruit and train an army of up to 10,000 engineers that will be needed in order to install 53 million meters in 30 million homes and small business, the report found.
Tim Yeo, the committee’s chairman, said: “Time is running out on the Government’s plan to install smart meters in each of the UK’s 30 million homes and businesses by 2020. Smart meters could generate more than £17bn in energy savings for the country yet a series of technical and other issues have resulted in delays to the planned roll-out.”
The new equipment is expected to cost more than £200 for every dual-fuel household, with the costs being footed by all bill-payers for many years to come – even if they turn down having the meters, which are voluntary, in their own home.
The energy department claims that the cost levied on bills will peak at £11 a year in 2017, but claims that average bills will already be lower overall by that point because of savings made by customers using less energy after having meters installed.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “Smart meters will put power into the hands of consumers – they will bring estimated billing to an end, help people manage their energy use, and make it easier to switch suppliers
“People with smart meters are already seeing reductions in their energy consumption and research out this week showed high satisfaction rates and confidence in the technology.
“The programme is still progressing and thousands of consumers are already enjoying the benefits of smart meters. Over one million meters are now in operation with the number installed growing each month.”