The roll out of smart meters to UK gas and electricity consumers is to be completed by 2020, updating the country’s energy infrastructure and offering a number of benefits to consumers. However there is a risk that where people live, the type of home they live in and how they pay for their energy may affect when they receive a smart meter, and what kind they will be offered.
In Scotland the greater level of rurality and the higher percentage of households on prepayment meters means that there is the potential for issues arising from the smart meter roll out to have a greater impact on Scottish consumers.
In order to gain insight into these issues, the Consumer Futures Unit (CFU) commissioned CAG, along with Changeworks and the University of Edinburgh, to carry out research to examine how the roll out is being conducted, what the benefits for and barriers to consumers are, and to identify how the roll out is impacting Scotland in particular.
The research findings include that:
- The pressure to meet the current deadline is increasing the costs of the roll out and the number of lower functionality SMETS 1 meters being installed;
- The roll out has the potential to benefit consumers on prepayment meters, of which Scotland has a higher proportion;
- Only SMETS 2 meters have the ability to notify the Distribution Network Operator of power outages, which are far more common in rural areas, and this function has the potential to provide rural consumers with greater security;
- Vulnerable and fuel poor consumers can benefit from smart meters as long as the right support is in place around the time of installation.
The report makes recommendations about the timing and pattern of the smart meter roll out:
- The key findings above suggest the 2020 deadline will have a negative impact on consumers, and greater flexibility would be beneficial. The report therefore recommends that the EU target of achieving 80% of smart meter installs by 2020 and 100% by 2025 is adopted instead;
- Ofgem should work with suppliers to minimise the installation of SMETS 1 meters in rural households, as SMETS 2 meters have the potential to provide rural consumers with greater security;
- The report also highlights that there is room for more to be done to support vulnerable customers through and beyond the installation process.