Sasha Deshmukh, chief executive of Smart Energy GB is pushing for people to accept developments
The warning was sounded by Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Smart Energy GB, as he seeks to ignite support for a stuttering £11billion Government scheme to offer more than 50 million smart meters to 30 million homes and businesses by the end of 2020.
Smart Energy is an independent body set up to promote the launch.
Ten million smart gas and electricity meters have been fitted and Mr Deshmukh said 19 million consumers want them installed in the next six months.
But he admits it will be “challenging” to meet the deadline. Despite 98 per cent of the country being aware of smart meters, and research showing 73 per cent of people would recommend the technology to friends and family, the programme has fallen behind schedule.
Concerns include safety, security and the incompatibility of “first generation” smart meters with a new national communications network, causing problems for consumers when they switch supplier.
Mr Deshmukh acknowledged issues with meters using their “smart” function but insisted this would be ironed out when they all go through the same system in 2019 and no one needed to worry about their device becoming obsolete.
He said: “It is a bit frustrating the rollout is slower than it was intended to be. We stand on the cusp of being able to take [it to] the next phase but there is still a job to do.”
The programme aims to transform the way households buy and use gas and electricity to save money and cut emissions, with meters tracking when energy is used and how much it is costing in near-real-time, highlighting opportunities to economise and bringing to an end estimated bills.
UK smart meter technology will be streamlined when they go through the same system next year
The launch costs account for about £20 of an average annual dual fuel bill of £1,100 but will produce estimated savings of £17billion. Mr Deshmukh, who started his career in community and issue-based campaigns and is a former deputy chair of Citizens Advice England and Wales, took on the role of overseeing the marketing of the smart meter revolution in 2013.
He said: “I really wanted to find things that combined engaging the public and doing something really significant for the country. I am a bit of a patriot. I was interested in vulnerable communities and discovered what a big impact the cost of energy has. It is the second biggest cost after rent or mortgage and people didn’t feel they had the ability to manage or control it. Consumers have not been engaged in the market because the service is so bad.
“The people who find it particularly useful are those who don’t generally engage with technology. You want people to be shopping around and controlling the amount of energy they are using.
“We are really unusual in that we have nearly 70 companies selling energy but we cannot be competitive until people have the information. With supermarkets, you know they are fighting for your business. This (programme) would not have happened if energy companies were tasked with self-creating it.”
He warned that some energy suppliers, who are responsible for installing the meters, run the risk of going out of business if they fail to embrace the scheme.
But forward-thinking providers will be “excited” at the prospect of selling the right amount at the right price. More companies are likely to enter the market, providing greater choice for consumers.
Addressing concerns that meters could be hacked Mr Deshmukh said the Government’s intelligence agency GCHQ had been involved in their design and there is no personal information stored in them beyond how much energy is being used.
He also rejected suggestions that pressure to meet the installation deadline – about 14,000 meters are being installed daily – could lead to poorly fitted meters posing a fire risk, pointing out that the roll-out provides the first opportunity for a national safety check, with trained engineers not just installing the new meters but testing appliances to identify potential dangers to health.
About 270,000 potential hazards including dangerous wiring and fuse boxes were uncovered last year during installations, while Mr Deshmukh has seen the benefit when his own meter was put in.
Mr Deshmukh warned that companieswould suffer a loss if they fail to embrace the technology
He said: “They discovered I had a gas fire with a slow carbon monoxide leak. Also, in the building where I live, they found someone had disconnected the earth to the electricity so if there had been a fault with any appliances someone could have been electrocuted.
“The energy industry takes safety as seriously as I have seen.
“Installers receive mentoring and face regular spot checks on the job to ensure safety standards are being met. If an installer fails to meet the safety standards they are taken out of service and have to undergo compulsory retraining.
“People shouldn’t be misled into thinking that upgrading their energy meters to smart meters could put their home at risk, which would see them miss out on the free safety checks installers deliver and the benefits of having smart meters.”
Mr Deshmukh describes smart meters as “the vital building blocks” of a digitally upgraded renewable based energy system, underpinning new smart home technology, electric vehicles and new services as Britain’s power is decarbonised and more industries are electrified.
Building a smart energy grid and being able to measure how much and when energy is used, the more likely demand can be managed and costs brought down.
Mr Deshmukh said: “In the past we had big coal power stations. When you’ve more power generated by renewables you need these electric vehicles to be able to communicate with the grid through a reliable energy system. Small businesses are really supportive because it is important to know when you are spending money.
“Research has shown that most big business leaders think our energy system needs a digital upgrade. Without this transformation, it will become difficult for this country to have a reliable and sustainable energy system to keep power flowing.”
Sacha also believes that the increased monitoring from smart meters will bring energy costs down
I’m Teaching my sons to be more aware
LYNN JAMES, who lives with her three sons and husband in Hertfordshire, asked her energy supplier for a smart meter after being constantly frustrated with not knowing how much she was spending on gas and electricity.
She said: “It’s always annoyed me that my energy bill is the only bill I haven’t had any control over. I just wanted a device that would tell me on a daily or even a minute by minute basis what we’re spending.
“With my smart meter I’ll always know what I’m spending, and so will my energy supplier. It just takes out that problem and you can prepare yourself if it is going to be an expensive month rather than just getting landed with a shock bill.
“It’s been so interesting to work out what different appliances are costing to use. Before getting a smart meter, I might have left the tumble dryer on for longer than I needed to because I just didn’t know how expensive that was. I’m trying to get my children to be more aware of our energy use, and what it means in real terms if you leave all the lights on.
“After the first month of having a smart meter I’ve already seen that our energy use has reduced. It just gives you that sense of comfort that you’re being really good and keeping things where they should be.”
Lynn James feels more control over her energy bills with a smart meter
It is inspiring me to start saving money
PAV CHEEMA had used tracking technology to stay motivated and set personal goals while cycling, and was intrigued to apply the same mentality to his energy use, using his new smart meter at home in north London.
He said: “My smart meter is inspiring me to save money and reduce energy waste whenever I can. I can see what I’m using in near real time and how much it’s costing, so I can work out ways to be more efficient without having to make any big changes.
“When we moved in we were getting estimated bills.
Pav Cheema said the meter has inspired him to start saving more momey
“It was hard to understand what we were actually paying for, but now they’re accurate and I know exactly what we’re spending on what, things are much easier.
“I check the in-home display regularly and keep it by the front door so I can easily see it.
“I’m looking forward to using the history function to compare my usage over time and hopefully see how much I’ve saved.
“It’s handy to be able to work out how much energy my appliances use, and how I can use them more efficiently. I’m already doing the simple things, like turning the lights off and the heating down a degree or two and tracking the impact that is having on my bills with the display; it’s really helping to see the difference.”