Public Accounts Committee report on smart meter roll-out

The Committee published their report ‘Update on preparations for smart metering’ on 10 Sep 2014. I agree with its concerns about interoperability and competition. It is good to see the issue of impact on vulnerable and low-income consumers highlighted, and UCL is involved in work to investigate this.

I’m not so sure about concerns around provision of In-Home Displays (IHDs). It is true that some people are likely to want to access smart meter data via smartphones. However, unless people are able (and choose) to have this info displayed on the lock screen, they will only see it when they actively seek it out. With an IHD, the feedback is more likely to be available anytime at a glance. I think this is especially important in the early days, when people are learning about the energy consumption of different appliances. It can also be important when this active learning period has passed, and the feedback is used more for monitoring of any unusual activity.

Finally, I think it is a shame that the Committee focus on the direct benefits to consumers in terms of energy savings. It is true that on average these are likely to be slight, although some people may be able to make more significant economies. And I for one will appreciate getting correct bills, rather than estimates. What doesn’t really come through, however, are the system benefits from which should all gain.

Smart meters afford us the option to do ‘demand side response’ more easily, ensuring we make use of electricity from wind when it is abundant and cutting back on the need to bring inefficient fossil fuel generation on-line during periods of high demand. With expected increases in electricity demand for heating and transport, they will allow us to make do with our existing infrastructure for longer, deferring costs. Fault detection and management will also become much easier. All of this will help make the system cleaner and more reliable, while limiting the rate of increase in costs.

So I’m glad the roll-out is under scrutiny, but I hope that future work can give as comprehensive an overview of the benefits of smart meters as it does of the costs.

For an overview of the smart meter roll-out you can take a look at the House of Commons Library standard note on the subject, which I contributed to.

Written by Mike Fell. For more on my own work, see my profile page.

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