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£11bn UK rollout of smart meters set for review by watchdog

Tim Maytom

The National Audit Office (NAO), the UK's government spending watchdog, is set to carry out a review of plans to install smart meters in millions of British homes. The NAO's investigation will examine whether or not the planned £11bn rollout will save customers money.

The rollout of smart meters is being lead by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and is aiming to see every home and small business in Great Britain equipped with the devices by 2020. The project will impact around 30m premises, and will cost £11bn, with estimated benefits worth £16.7bn.

Smart meters are designed to send meter readings back to utility suppliers so that energy bills can be based on accurate use, rather than estimates. However, some users have experienced problems with the devices, resulting in inaccurate bills or the loss of features when they switch suppliers.

The study by the NAO will assess the current economic case for the rollout, look at whether the government is on track to achieve its target of 2020 for the project, and consider whether the government is maximising the chances that smart meters will achieve their intended long-term benefits of reducing costs of consumers and improving energy consumption.

The study follows up on two previous NAO studies on the rollout, published in 2011 and 2014, and is standard procedure for government projects of this scale. It is expected to be completed by July 2018, and will help guide how the government proceeds with the rollout.

Some elements of the project are already running behind schedule. The Data Communicatins Company, the IT system that will enable the meters to communicate with suppliers, has not yet launched, despite originally being due to go live in 2015. Smart Energy GB, the industry body responsible for promoting smart meters, has defended the pace of the rollout, claiming that 80 per cent of peopel with smart meters are very happy with the devices, and would recommend them to friends and family.