Smart Meter Roll-Out Delayed Until Autumn 2015

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The government says we need more time to prepare the digital infrastructure

The UK government has pushed back the smart meter project by over a year, and will start the full roll-out by autumn 2015 instead of summer of 2014, announced Edward Davey, secretary of state for Energy And Climate Change in a statement on Friday.

According to Davey, the UK’s infrastructure is not ready to support wide scale smart meter adoption. Over the next two years, just two million new meters will be introduced by the industry.

The £11.7 billion government project, that calls for the  installation of around 50 million smart meters, could help customers save money through more accurate and up-to-date meter readings, and also help the environment by reducing energy wastage and unecessary emissions. Unfortunately, the scheme has been criticised for poor planning and unreliable numbers.

Earlier this year, TechWeekEurope warned that the smart meter programme looks ill-conceived and ill-prepared.

Getting it right

A smart meter records consumption of electric energy or gas in intervals of an hour or less, and communicates that information at least daily back to the utility provider for monitoring and billing purposes. The networked device is supposed to reduce energy use through a combination of feedback to consumers and Big Data analytics on the country-wide energy consumption, which can allow utilities to operate more efficiently.

More advanced systems could allow remote control of electrical devices so household electricity use can be more closely tied to actual demand.

alertmesmartmetersquareIn 2010, the government decided to accelerate the smart meter roll-out, promising this would produce £18.6 billion worth of savings over twenty years. The project will now be delayed until 2015, to allow for the installation of relevant data and communication infrastructure.

“The consistent message was that more time was needed if the mass roll-out was to get off to the best possible start and ensure a quality experience for consumers,” said Davey.

“Reflecting the extended period to build and test the systems required by industry, the Government has decided to move the completion date for the mass roll-out from end 2019 to end 2020 – although I expect the vast majority of smart meters to be in place against the original 2019 deadline,” he added.

According to Stuart Ravens, energy and sustainability technology analyst at Ovum, the delay has been caused by the errors in the tendering process. “In the British deployment, retailers have no geographic constraints, nor have they historically shown much interest in trialling and testing a variety of communications technologies. With very few exceptions, the smart meters deployed in Britain so far have relied on cellular-based communications, with mixed results.”

Cellular technology is very dependent on mobile coverage, and involves data contracts, which add to the cost, even when they are provided by operators specialising in machine to machine (M2M) services.  ~among the proposed alternatives is White Space radio, which re-uses broadcast frequencies.

“The Department for Energy and Climate Change decided, in its wisdom, to divide Britain into three regions and invited tenders for each of these regions,” said Ravens. “Part of the DECC’s tendering process was to request proof that each communications technology would work in the British deployment. However, it did not commission any trials itself. If the tendering process were to proceed as previously planned, Britain could have commissioned a communications network for over 50 million meters that had not been properly tested.”

To make up for the lost time, the government will be taking several new measures to speed up the introduction. From the end of 2013, when a customer switches from a supplier who has provided them with a smart meter, the new supplier has to either rent the previous supplier’s meter or install their own smart meter, helping to gradually phase out old equipment. This also makes sure that suppliers don’t lose out when they become early adopters.

There are also proposals to require energy suppliers and network operators to comply with the Smart Energy Code and ensure their smart meters really perform their advanced functions and supply data to customers.

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