More than half of homes and businesses across Britain have not yet been upgraded to smart meter technology, with around 21,000 installations needed per day in the next four years to hit target, NationalWorld can reveal.
Smart meters are digital devices that let consumers see how much gas and electricity they are using, to improve energy efficiency and lower bills. The Government has pledged to upgrade every home and business by mid-2025.
It is one of the main consumer actions needed to reduce energy consumption and achieve net zero by 2050.
The rollout, which was officially launched in 2016, was severely hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.
But the national infrastructure upgrade was already slowing pre-pandemic, NationalWorld’s analysis reveals, with hundreds of thousands fewer installations in 2019 and than in 2018.
It is currently up to energy suppliers to install smart meters. They have until the end of June 2025 to complete the rollout – but engineers will have to install almost 21,000 a day to achieve the target of every home and business being upgraded.
That is almost twice the rate they were achieving pre-pandemic.
Fuel poverty charity, National Energy Action, said priority should be given to those on pay-as-you-go meters, which they say have always been at a disadvantage.
How many smart meters are there in Britain?
Data published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy shows there are 25.2 million smart and advanced meters across Britain as of June, representing 46% of all gas and electric energy meters.
However, millions of those have not been switched to smart mode, and are still operating like traditional metres.
Between January and June this year, 1.7 million energy and gas smart meters were installed by large energy providers – an average of 9,817 per day.
To upgrade the 30,099,969 traditional meters that were remaining at the end of June, engineers would need to upgrade 20,602 every day until the 2025 deadline.
Between 2016 and 2019, engineers managed an average of 12,003 per day.
The rollout has already faced delays and challenges.
The coronavirus restrictions meant engineers could no longer carry out the installation work, resulting in a huge drop in the number of new installations in 2020 and 2021.
But there were problems with the rollout even before the pandemic. The number of installations has been dropping since 2018, when it peaked at 5.1 million. There were more than half a million fewer (548,879) installations in 2019 than in 2018, representing an 11% drop.
Millions of smart meters are still not functioning in the correct way.
Figures show 4.6 million (18% of all smart meters) are still in ‘traditional mode’ and not yet smart operational. There are various reasons for this, such as those in new build properties which are not yet being used.
‘Millions left out in the cold’
Matt Copeland, head of policy and public affairs at National Energy Action, said ‘pay as you go’ energy consumers have long been at a disadvantage and should be prioritised in the rollout.
Mr Copeland said: “There is clear evidence that vulnerable energy customers with dumb ‘pay as you go’ meters have seen market detriment for years and have been placed at severe risk during the pandemic.
“Upgrading these old meters to smart ones should be a priority.
“The UK Government and Ofgem should introduce specific targets for replacing legacy prepayment meters. If not, millions of users of this outdated technology will continue to be left out in the cold.”
Challenges with the rollout
The smart meter rollout has been running since 2016 and because of issues caused by the pandemic, energy suppliers now have until mid-2025 to install them in every home and business in Britain.
The government-backed Smart Energy GB advertising campaign starring Albert Einstein has been pushing advertisements on TV and radio to encourage takeup.
Fflur Lawton from Smart Energy GB acknowledged the challenges the rollout has faced but stressed the environmental value of having a smart meter.
Ms Lawton said: “As with every major infrastructure project the rollout has had its challenges.
“We’re nearing the halfway mark and every smart meter installed in Britain is a step closer to a more efficient energy system that will make more use of renewable wind and solar power, a key component to reaching net zero and a topic being widely debated at COP26.
“The climate crisis is not going away, but by having a smart meter installed, people are taking a small but vital step, right now, to help tackle the climate crisis, as well as feeling the benefits at home from greater control over their energy use.”
A national infrastructure upgrade
A government spokesperson added: “The replacement of traditional gas and electricity meters with smart meters is a national infrastructure upgrade that will make our energy system cheaper, cleaner and more efficient, helping to reduce our contribution to climate change and deliver net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“While the global pandemic had an understandable impact, energy suppliers have successfully returned to safely installing smart meters at scale, with over 25 million smart and advanced meters now in homes and small businesses across Great Britain.”
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