The National Audit Office (NAO) has warned that there is "no realistic prospect" of the UK government meeting its own deadline to install smart meters in the home of every UK consumer by 2020. The public accounts watchdog is the latest in a chorus of voices, including the Citizens Advice Bureau and a group of MPs, to suggest the target is impossible to reach.
As well as missing the 2020 target, the report by the NAO suggests the cost of the rollout is likely to escalate beyond initial expectations, with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) having underestimated how long it would take to implement both the infrastructure and technical standards for the second generation of smart meters.
Significant technical delays meant that the first of the current generation of smart meters wasn't installed until July 2017, over three years later than planned. In the absence of the current SMETS2 meters, energy suppliers have installed over 12.5m first generation smart meters, more than double the number originally planned.
The NAO report warned that attempting to stick to the 2020 deadline will put increasing pressure on the programme, and raises the risks of cost escalation and the chance that technology is rolled out before defects have been addressed. However, BEIS has argued that without the 2020 deadline, energy suppliers will continue to underinvest in the rollout while arguing for more time.
The report did maintain that the rollout of smart meters, which provide consumers with better guidance regarding their energy consumption and enable energy suppliers to take readings remotely, will lead to economic benefits over time, but that the Government needs to revise its strategy when it comes to the initial rollout of devices.
"Costs are rising, and timescales slipping, but smart meters can still succeed over time," said Amyas Morse, head of the NAO. "BEIS has taken most of the decisions that matter on the programme so far. They now need to take responsibility for getting it back on track and protecting the interests of consuemrs who will ultimately meet the bills."