As time ticks on we are getting closer and closer to the government’s deadline for smart meters being rolled out in every UK home. But what exactly are smart meters and how are they going to benefit the UK?

Smart Meters are the next step to digitising the domestic energy market and have been advocated by the government as a solution to encourage the consumer into energy saving habits; they use wireless technology to allow companies to remotely read the customer’s meter and allow the customer to not only see their meter reading, but also a real-time view of the cost of the energy they’re consuming. So how does this save energy for the consumer? The basic principle behind it is the end of estimated bills. If a customer has a view of the actual cost to them of the energy they’re consuming (or wasting) as it happens they will be more inclined to switch to energy saving measures, such as switching off unused lights or devices on standby mode.

On a wider basis, for companies themselves, smart readers require less maintenance. Away are the days of wasting valuable hours sending engineers out for simple meter readings. Not only this, there will be a rise in efficiency for companies –  for example – human error, the main cause of most of the billing errors, is eradicated with smart meters. This rise in efficiency, along with the ability to roll out energy offerings quicker will not only create an opening for smaller suppliers but will also create a more competitive market – which again will enhance efficiency as firms need to remain affordable for customers who will have a larger choice between suppliers.

So far this has all been theoretical, but what do the facts say? Despite the 2015 manifesto by the government implying a requirement for smart meters for all consumers, and their 2017 manifesto promising the offer of one to all households by 2020, by March 2017 only 5 million had been installed in UK homes. This might sound like a lot… until you compare it to the 26 million households in the UK – more of a modest feat than a total victory. For a smaller comparison, energy firm SSE provide energy for 8.14 million homes and by March 2017 had rolled out just 400,00 meters.

So what are the main issues?

Customer’s dubious attitudes towards ‘smart’ technology: customers are concerned about having devices in their home recording personal data. In a day in age where privacy, hacking etc are huge concerns for the public it can be difficult to attractively market such technology.

The cost: on average, the cost of installing smart meters is £400 per property, although this charge cannot directly be put billed to customers it can technically be taken back through higher energy prices. Also, whilst smart meters have the potential to save energy and therefore money. Earlier research showed energy consumption has been cut by a mere 3%, something that may not seem worth it for the predicted £11bn cost on consumers.

Certain smart meters are unreliable: major energy suppliers have admitted that some of the 8 million “first generation” smart meters fitted in households are incompatible with the national communications network, which links their systems to the devices and was launched in November 2016. These SMETS1 (first generation) smart meters are not only not guaranteed to work on the new network but may go into ‘dumb’ mode after switching suppliers as the new supplier cannot operate the smart functionality. So far there are around 330,000 smart meters installed which are not operating in ‘smart mode’. There has however been the creation of SMETS2 smart meters which are completely compatible with the network, however, these are not available just yet.