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Assessing the UK’s Smart Meter Situation

The smart meter rollout campaign across Britain is a step towards the decarbonisation goal by 2050, but over one-third of households with smart meters still encounter several issues like teething troubles and display malfunction, among others.

According to new data gathered by uSwitch, four million households reported problems with their smart meters despite the deadline for installation initially set until the year-end 2020. Accelerating the rollout is imperative but criticisms keep coming, which could cause another delay to the already adjusted 2024 target.

Smart meter issues

The latest figures show more than 14 million installations of smart meters have been made in Britain, with Scotland having around 903,000 of these digital devices connected. However, there have been numerous complaints since the rollout came in full effect.

The uSwitch study reveals that 39% of the problems are related to malfunctioning smart displays. Around 32% complained that the device stopped working after switching, and 13% reported their smart meters failing to work entirely.

Second generation SMETS2 meters are the subject of remonstrations from a third of households installed with it, citing a variety of issues with installation and functionality. The SMETS2 were supposedly designed to dodge any technical problem, which is not the case.

Energy retailers are raising concerns regarding SMETS2 smart meter operability. Some retailers believe the first-generation SMETS1 is more superior than SMETS2 and is considerably easier to operate and capture data.

uSwitch also disclosed that one-fifth of smart meter owners were offered SMETS1 since March 2019, even when suppliers have indicated that they would only install the newer counterparts as part of the intelligent rollout campaign.

Other news firms have also reported incidences of customers receiving eye-watering power bills of as much as £2,000. Further investigations revealed that the smart meter installed was faulty.

Other complaints involve a faulty smart box that sits with the existing fuse box and a failing in-home display. Some people say their smart meter suddenly loses connection, beeps uncontrollably or seems to be affected by the weather.

Views from different sectors

In the uSwitch study, half of the homeowners using smart meters are not entirely convinced about the benefits of the device. Over a fifth of the respondents confessed that they felt pressured by the retailer into switching to smart meters, although the number has declined over the recent years.

On a positive note, 29% of households deem that their power bills decreased thanks to smart meters, and two-thirds reckon the digital device helped them become more aware of their power consumption.

However, representatives from challenger suppliers who attended the roundtable event to discuss the rollout campaign expressed their opinion on the matter of smart meters. One delegate was convinced that SMETS2 shouldn’t have been pushed because the full functionality developers promised failed to be delivered in many cases.

Another representative pointed out instances where customers say they have lost trust in a specific supplier due to faulty smart meters. They also discussed SMETS2 being unavailable for prepayment accounts, straining the target deadline for the rollout.

The Data Communications Company (DCC) answered the claims, saying that the SMETS2 provides an advantage due to seamless supplier switching that encourages competition in the energy market. DCC revealed that over 3 million SMETS2 meters were already fitted and that the technology is bound to improve and mature.

Meanwhile, the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) released recent figures, disclosing that 3.1 million of the installed smart meters persisted on their ‘dumb’ operation. As of September, 15.6 million smart meters have been operable, which is a 4% increase compared to the previous quarter.

Smart Energy GB ambassador Carol Vorderman said that smart meters help update the energy system, ensuring a more intelligent way of managing energy usage.

Smart Energy GB is an organisation that helps encourage households to switch to smart meters, and conducts information dissemination campaigns to introduce the benefits of these digital devices.