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The UK Smart Meter Rollout Delay: Let's Get It Right

Earlier this year, the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) decided to delay the smart meter rollout. Despite some early frustration, many believe it was a smart move. The government recently announced that 53 million smart meters will be rolled out by 2020, one year later than its original goal.

The consumer is, rightly so, at the heart of this rollout and the delay will ensure that the consumer is fully engaged and educated. In addition to this, it will also ensure that the functionality of the meters will be fit for purpose. Installing 53 million smart meters in 30 million homes and small businesses by 2020 is a tall order and this is just the first step. Consumers will demand a seamless, quality customer experience which will be essential in the early stages to encourage buy-in. From an industry perspective it is reassuring to see that the government has taken feedback on board and, more importantly, is continuing to focus on consumer sentiment.

Success of the smart meter rollout is dependent on a number of underlying factors: securing the right skill set for installers, consumer engagement and technical pairing, and using smart meter data to deliver a better service. Firstly, the right skill-set from installers is crucial, along with the understanding and communication skills to answer any queries the consumer may have on their new smart meter.  To ensure the roll out is successful, it is vital to maintain consumer engagement and manage expectations.  Smart meters do offer the potential to achieve significant benefits to consumers and businesses alike however only with behavioural change will this be possible.

Another issue to consider is the technical pairing of smart meters with other technologies. This is how the real benefits to smart meters will be delivered to the consumer. It is important to recognise that not all consumers are alike. For example, for some, an in-home display (IHD) would be an effective tool to monitor their energy consumption. However, others could prefer a platform that they are more familiar with such as an iPhone app, resulting in a much greater behavioural change for these individuals. Therefore, it is important for energy suppliers to reflect the changing technology used by their customers in their approach to providing smart meter data, by perhaps offering more of a choice. 

Finally, the rollout is a great opportunity for the industry to think outside the consumer box. Smart meters have the potential to offer huge benefits to the energy industry. If meters are collecting network data too, then they could really help Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) to deal with faults more efficiently and get a better understanding of the impact on their distribution network. It is important to ensure information that will be of value to network businesses is included wherever possible.

The U.K. has learned a great deal from the U.S. smart meter programme. Despite more than $4 billion in stimulus money, and 30 million meters deployed in the two years after the programme began, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reports that smart meter penetration levels have only reached 23 percent in the United States. A lack of coherent policy and consumer wariness has been blamed for the lag. This highlights again why it is crucial that the government continues to keep consumers at the centre of the rollout and the above points are considered during the extended time period before the rollout begins.

The rollout is just the beginning of an incredibly important journey and if consumers are successfully engaged and educated then the U.K. rollout could be an example of how to do it right.

Lead image: Smart meter via Shutterstock

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