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Not too clever: will smart meters be the next government IT disaster?

17 Mar 2015
Smart meter fixed to a wall

A key area of concern outlined in the report is that the technology behind the scheme is untested and some parts will likely be obsolete by the scheduled switch-on date of 2020.

The new wireless standard, ZigBee, which is being developed for Smart Meters is complex and expensive compared to the better-known Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Each property will also get an in home display, but there is scant evidence of consumer demand. British Gas found that only 60% of customers looked at their displays even once a month a year after installation.

Recommendations 

An incoming government should consider the following changes: 

  • Stop the smart gas meter deployment – only a handful of EU nations are planning to deploy gas smart meters by 2020. This would save billions of pounds
  • Remove the requirement for an in home display – expected to cost £800m in total, the displays will be out of date in a few years. Far better to connect smart meters to people’s phones, tablets and PCs
  • Limit the rollout to homes with high energy usage – those who use more than 5,100 kWh of electricity, and 23,000 kWh of gas a year have much more to gain. This would reduce the scale of the rollout by 80%
  • Abandon attempts to stretch the rollout to tower blocks – the most technically challenging aspect of the project with the lowest potential returns. This would remove seven million homes from the scheme
  • Make the programme genuinely voluntary – offered to customers at their own expense, not subsidised by all
  • Abandon the whole programme and develop a smart phone app instead – look into developing a smart app which would convert a photo of their current mechanical meter into a meaningful number for the suppliers. This would cost tens of thousands of pounds rather than billions.
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