Smart meters, which allow energy suppliers to get remote electricity and gas readings from households and businesses using mobile phone-type signals and wireless technologies, should benefit customers through savings from energy usage and efficiency. In 2013 we first looked at the Government's programme to roll-out smart meters to 100% of UK homes and businesses by 2020. This inquiry reviewed the progress of the roll-out and we have been disappointed by the ongoing policy delivery challenges which the Government has failed to resolve:
· Technical communication problems with multiple occupancy and tall buildings which should have been resolved by now
· Compatibility problems between different suppliers and different meters
· A slow start to full engagement with the public on meter installation and long-term use
· A delay by the Government-appointed communications infrastructure company which has further set back confidence in the programme
· A reluctance to improve transparency by publishing the Major Project Authority's assessments on the smart meter programme
These policy problems are symptomatic of a national programme that the Government has left largely to suppliers and failed to drive forward effectively. Consequently, we do not believe that near-universal smart meter roll-out will be achieved by 2020. 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. The Government must urgently seek industry-wide solutions to the technical challenges that remain. It should also give serious consideration to whether it is possible to reduce costs to consumers by streamlining the roll-out of smart meters, perhaps through more active participation of network companies. For the Government to succeed with this nationwide project, it must now grip the reins and take a more active role to support the industry-led roll-out. Getting it right will eventually cut energy usage and bills for 30 million homes and businesses in the UK. Getting it wrong risks embarrassment for the Government through public disengagement with a flagship energy policy and a costly missed opportunity.