In Depth

Why the UK government's smart meter project has stalled

National Audit Office says that with 39 million meters still to be replaced, government has no chance of hitting 2020 deadline

A UK watchdog has found there is "no realistic prospect" of the government meeting its own deadline to install smart meters in British homes

In a new report, the National Audit Office (NAO) said that with 39 million old-fashioned meters yet to be replaced, meeting a goal of all homes and businesses being offered one by the end of 2020 is deeply unlikely.

Smart meters “automate readings in an attempt to make energy use easier for householders to understand and are considered a critical upgrade of the energy system”, says The Guardian.

The government rejected the report’s findings saying that 400,000 of the meters were being installed every month, and the target was achievable.

"We've said everyone will be offered a smart meter by the end of 2020... and we will meet that commitment," said energy minister Claire Perry.

Labour said the report made clear that the government had failed and had in fact created a “fiasco” with a botched rollout.

But Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said despite their findings the meters were still viable: “Costs are rising, and timescales slipping, but smart meters can still succeed over time.”

The NAO also found that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy's assumption that the rollout would cost £11 billion - the equivalent of £374 per dual fuel household - “under-estimates the true cost of rolling out smart meters”.

Costs have risen “by at least £500 million since that estimate was made in 2016, the equivalent of an extra £17 per household”, says MoneySavingExpert.

Alongside this the NAO says the functionality of smart meters still needs improvement. It says they don't work in homes with thick walls, for example, which can block the mobile phone signals needed to transmit their data.

And according to the BBC, the coldest parts of the country are the least likely to have a smart meter installed, even though the need in such regions is greater.

In Scotland and the north of England just 3,000 second generation meters had been installed by June, compared to 106,000 in the rest of Britain.

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