It came as no surprise to hear last week that the GB smart meter implementation programme (GB SMIP) has had its target of having smart meters in UK homes has been put back a year.
The project, which is planned to be fully completed by 2019, had a target for the introduction of smart meters in homes by the summer of 2014, but this has been put back to the autumn of 2015. The reason for this is that more time is needed to get the critical communications network right.
SMIP is part of the UK’s plan to cut carbon emissions by helping consumers and businesses better control their energy usage. These meters communicate with a central system at regular intervals. This can give consumers accurate information on their usage and enable them to make cuts.
But it is a huge task to get it right. Not only does billions have to be spent on getting the smart meters in and the IT that makes it all work, but there is also a lack of public understanding. A lack of public understanding has led to the downfall of many a public sector IT project. If the taxpayers that are funding the project don’t understand its benefits the battle could be lost even before the massive IT undertaking gets going. Research has shown that consumers are not up for it because it is likely to cost more for energy and the promised savings in the long run will not be guaranteed. Basically most people would rather save money than the planet. Part of the problem is the government have not done enough to sell the cost advantages to consumers.
And it is a massive IT undertaking involving huge outsourcing contracts.
This project will require a company to be set up, known as the Central Data and Communications Company (DCC). This will manage the data that smart meters send and receive. The DCC will require services from IT and communications service providers. It will collect information from smart meters in homes and send information on to utility companies to enable them to bill accurately. This will be a massive IT shop.
All this as well as the need for smart meters, smart communicating sensors, modules, advanced communications networks and then things like security will make this a major project. The problem is that the public don’t seem to be behind it.
So we have a huge IT project that people don’t seem to support. In a few years people could just see the project as a lot of very expensive IT projects that don’t deliver any savings.
This would be a shame because protecting the environment is important. But the government must better communicate the financial savings people can make. This will require a lot of education and if consumers want to really save money they will have to have smart devices to link to the grid and use power efficiently. So there is investment needed in homes as well.
OK there has only been a delay to one of the projects deadlines, but that will inevitable mean an increased cost. It will be interesting to see if there are further problems when the IT and comms service providers actually get going. I can imagine costs rising and rising.
Could this be another NHS Project for IT (NHS NPfIT) in the making? What I mean is there is a lot to do and a lot of money required to do it and there seems to be lots of points of failure. The fact that the public aren’t really behind it could be the excuse a government needs to cancel it. Just like NHS NPfIT.
In 2011 Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the committee of public accounts, said:
“Smart meters could help us all cut our energy consumption but government’s track record on delivering large programmes is patchy at best. At the moment the estimated cost is £11.3 billion, but all our experience suggests that this budget will be blown.
Also, for the money spent to provide value, we all have to change the way we behave. It is not clear how the Department will stimulate this behaviour change. And, as technology changes, the Department will have to be properly flexible to respond with up-to-date technology for the smart meters. These uncertainties can drive up costs more than planned.
We will keep a close eye on project progress, and would urge the Department to address the risks identified in this report.”