Warning over UK smart meter ‘fiasco’

The UK’s leading consumer group has called for the country’s current smart meter scheme to be halted.

Consumer group Which? said the rollout is in danger of becoming “a fiasco” because energy firms have been left to deploy meters only if customers ask for them.

Which? now wants the government to step in and take over the installation of meters. Executive director Richard Lloyd said: "Smart meters can bring many benefits, but consumers won't accept them at any cost, or from suppliers they don’t trust.”

He added it was “naive to hope that competition in the energy market will keep under control the cost of installing smart meters in every home”.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change wants every household to have a smart meter by 2019 and claims this will save GBP18m ($27m).

Energy minister Charles Hendry admitted the government had been “too hands-off” in the past but added that “the last thing we need is more dither and delay”.

He said: “The introduction of smart meters will unlock huge benefits for the UK, and the coalition government has published detailed plans showing how we will deliver this. We are determined to take the scheme forward, with ministerial oversight and safeguards for consumers built in.”

Research from Which? last week revealed that the UK’s six major energy suppliers – British Gas, EDF. E.ON, nPower, Scottish Power and SSE – received more than four million complaints last year, with metering and billing problems the most common problem.

The need to have the customer ‘on board’ is now seen as essential to any smart meter deployment. Already several initiatives in the US and a nationwide scheme in the Netherlands have failed because of a lack of customer engagement.

Andy Corkhill, director of EMEA Utilities at relationship management consultancy Convergys, said: “Ultimately, consumers will bear the cost of any smart meter rollout, so it is imperative that they understand the reasons and rationale behind it. More importantly, they must be aware of what it means to them in terms of available services and most importantly, the associated costs.”

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