The recent COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt on smart meter rollouts in the UK and now that the lockdown is easing up suppliers are slowly resuming such installations.
Four of the country’s Big Six suppliers, including British Gas, Npower, E.ON, and SSE, have resumed appointments for smart meter installation. However, several measures have been set in place to provide safety for both employees and customers.
The new ‘no-contact installation’ has been designed to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 while also pushing for infrastructure upgrades that meet the goals of the energy sector.
Before the coronavirus-related lockdown, the UK has made great leaps on its target to replace old standard meters with smart meters that can automatically and wirelessly send energy usage information to suppliers.
The smart meter rollout envisions a country that doesn’t need in-home meter readings anymore, allowing households to have a more convenient way of recording energy consumption and be made more aware of their own energy usage. At present, there are still around two million houses that rely on old standard meters.
Some of the new measures include temporarily not allowing customers over 70 years old to secure an appointment. Seniors are considered high-risk and therefore asked to wait or postpone their smart meter installation until a later date. Consumers who have successfully set an appointment must monitor their health and reschedule if they present any flu-like symptoms.
Will Owen, an energy expert from uSwitch, stated that smart meters allow suppliers to adjust bills quickly. These smart devices help energy providers alert consumers about any change in their energy usage and accurately record consumption over a period of time. He pointed out that people have been staying indoors more during this pandemic resulting in more energy use but meter readers could be delayed in servicing homes and this means delays in meter readings being submitted to suppliers. This delay in meter readings means that the subsequent bills during the lockdown period could be inaccurate, which might shock consumers as soon as they receive their final statements from their suppliers.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, smart meter installations were at an all-time high from January to February of this year. However, everything was put on a sudden hold as soon as the threat of the pandemic escalated.
In the data presented by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, there was a 15% decline from January to March in terms of smart meter installation compared to last quarter. During that time frame, there were only 0.98 million smart meters installed by the more significant energy suppliers.
2020 was projected to be record-breaking in its smart meter installation delivery. In the fourth quarter of 2019, smart meter rollouts rose to about 8.2% and were projected to build up this year.
About 22,000 advanced and smart meters were fitted to non-domestic sites until installers were furloughed following the lockdown. According to the data, domestic and non-domestic smart and advanced meters installations are now around 21.5 million-mark across the country.
As the lockdown eases, energy providers are tasked to remobilise the installations, with Smart Metering Systems announcing that it will be resuming non-essential fieldwork throughout June.
The nationwide target for smart meter rollout was set at 85% by 2024. However, the recent global pandemic has further delayed things, pushing back the goal that was already affected by slow uptake by customers before the pandemic-induced lockdown.
The National Infrastructure Commission or NIC has presented a proposed resilience framework that should be implemented nationwide to prepare for possible scenarios in the future affecting the different sectors.
The NIC said the recent events and the previous 9th August blackout exposed several vulnerabilities in infrastructure, including that of energy, digital, water, rail and road services.
Regulators will be expected to present obligations by 2023, sanctioning infrastructure operators to design and build strategies that promote resilience across industries in both short-term and long-term periods.
The resilience framework has six phases, namely, Anticipate, Resist, Absorb, Recover, Adapt, and Transform. The first step is to anticipate any disruption and prepare for it. Then, systems must resist stresses and shocks to block any impact on service and operations. The infrastructure should also be able to absorb these possible strains to minimise their impact on services.
Once the shock has passed, the system should be able to recover quickly to restore services at expected levels. There should be a course of action that modifies the system to ensure that workflow resumes amid changes. For instance, the electricity system can benefit from energy storage facilities that support renewable generation.
Lastly, the existing infrastructure systems should be transformed and improved to meet the collective net-zero target of the UK by 2025.