My advance reading for a meeting last week on bringing together Energy and Communications policies as part of an affordable "green" agenda, included a very sharp and well informed attack on the current smart metering programme. It was described as Ed Milliband's "poison pill" for his successors. Unfortunately the author, usually a great advocate of open government (you know who you are) marked it as "not for circulation". I hope he will change his mind after reading the rest of this post - if only to complain about having his paper misinterpreted.
On the 17th July the Conservative Technology Forum sub-group looking at Energy policy discussed the need for the Smart Metering programme to be built round business models that are attractive to both consumers and investors and encourage the creation of secure and resilient shared infrastructure networks at a price that all, including taxpayers, can afford.
It had received some "challenging" inputs. These included a hatchet job on the smart metering plans passed from Ed Milliband to Chris Huhne in May 2010. That paper could be summarised as describing current policy as "a very expensive regulatory and consultancy job-creation programme that will inevitably lead to duplication and waste of effort plus increased costs and lock-ins for consumers and ongoing taxpayer subsidies, while protecting incumbent suppliers from competition now and for the foreseeable future."
However, rather than indulge in criticism of the shortcomings of the current, (largely inherited), policy, the meeting agreed to concentrated on the positive - the key points to be addressed in suggesting a policy framework to enable us to move from where we are now to a way forward that is practical, affordable and credible.
1) The Consumer Experience: What is in it for the consumers who will elect the next government? lower costs? greater control? choice etc.?
2) The business case for investors: what are the business models? Why should the Ruritanian Teachers Pension fund invest in UK infrastructure and utility companies, consortia or projects?
3) The need to build and operate using world-class, future proof, international inter-operability standards to prevent lock in to second-class business models and help ensure competition, choice and global competitiveness as markets evolve.
4) The need for simple, clear and effective Market Rules that help ensure sustainable competition and choice in the interests of both consumers and investors.
5) Security and resilience: from sustainability of supply to the protection of consumers from rogue operations staff (access and selling information) to the protection of operators and networks from rogue consumers (stealing energy or disrupting supply).
6) The need for information (and routines to communicate this) covering the location and characteristics of equipment and networks to help both sharing and resilience (including checking that critical services do not unwittingly share vulnerabilities).
The review of
current and planned incentive schemes to ensure that they are effective
in using the funds available to achieve agreed and prioritised
Work on some of these is already under way and I suspect that an unpublished review of 7) above may have triggered the departure of the DECC permanent secretary this week.
P.S. What has this to do with IT? We have to ensure that the smart metering programme is a stepping stone, not an an obstacle in the way, to the creation of the smart infrastructure to support the world of ubiquitous computing. If we get it wrong it is not just the lights that will go out.