Covid throws smart meter rollout into chaos

The entrepreneur describes a troubled corporate structure at DCC: “It’s set up and managed in a way that’s extremely inefficient. But in the end, it doesn’t matter, because it’s a monopoly.”

Recently released Ofgem documents paint a picture of disorder and confusion across the industry at large, as fresh problems appear likely to knock the Government’s revised completion date of 2025 even further back.

The watchdog’s latest report into the smart metering programme highlights how “old” smart meters that are incompatible with DCC’s latest systems continued to be installed by energy suppliers beyond the cut-off date announced by the Department for Business.

Furthermore, half of the larger suppliers failed to meet annual milestones set out by the Government, with others encountering difficulties in engaging consumers. Even when these companies arrange a time with a customer to install their smart meter, the instances of suppliers calling off an installation at the last moment remains “too high”, Ofgem says.

“The sheer scale of the programme and the challenges is enormous,” says Simon James, who has spent several years working with smart metering companies in various roles. “It’s been seen as an energy project, when it’s really more of a telecommunications project.”

All the regulatory experts in this area work for Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, rather than Ofgem, which is overseeing the rollout, he adds.

James says there are more dark clouds on the horizon for DCC. While installations were increasing rapidly before coronavirus struck, many of these were in the easiest-to-reach properties. “They’ve done very few blocks of flats yet – all the difficult stuff is being left to the end,” he says.

Energy suppliers refer to these installations as the “low hanging fruit”, according to Rowan Hazell, an analyst at energy consultancy Cornwall Insight. “It’s definitely [a problem] that Ofgem and the industry recognises.”

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