Taxpayers oblivious to smart meters as government plans to spend big

Government awards billions of pounds' worth of IT contracts in the smart meter roll-out despite less than half the UK population knowing what it is

The government is preparing to award billions of pounds' worth of IT contracts as part of the GB Smart Metering Implementation Programme (SMIP), despite over half the UK adult population not knowing what a smart meter is.

The SMIP aims to help users manage their energy consumption and reduce carbon emissions by helping them better understand their consumption. The government wants 30 million smart meters in home and businesses in the UK.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has called on IT suppliers to build the data and communications infrastructure that will enable data to be sent between smart meters in homes and businesses and the yet-to-be-established central Data and Communications Company (DCC), which will manage the data. The DCC will also require significant IT investment.

IT and IT services will make up a massive part of the overall investment in the SMIP, which is expected to cost over £10bn. A government committee last year warned of the risk of failure associated with the IT that will support the GB Smart Metering Implementation Programme (SMIP).

The report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says the plan to have 53 million smart meters installed in homes and businesses is a good one, but its success depends on overcoming a number of challenges, including major IT implementations.

According to YouGov research, commissioned by mobile operator O2, 63% of the 3,000 consumers questioned did not know what a smart meter is.

However the research reveals an appetite for smart meters when they are properly explained to consumers. A total of 77% said greater visibility and control of energy usage in the home comprised an important reason for favouring smart meters and 73% said fair pricing, via accurate billing, were important.

David Taylor, managing director of M2M at Telefónica Digital UK, said: “The lessons from smart meter roll-outs in other countries is that you have to bring consumers with you, so they want to have these devices installed in their homes. 

"The government understands this and is creating a central delivery body to take on this task. What our research shows is that, in order to secure broad consumer support for smart meters, it is important to communicate both the rational benefits – potential cost savings and carbon reduction – and also paint a compelling vision of the near-term future, with the smart home providing consumers with a range of connected devices and services.”

While reduced bills and lowering the carbon emissions are valuable benefits of smart metering, smart devices linked up in the home that can be programmed and controlled remotely offer time savings.

Helen Rowley of Mumsnet, the UK’s biggest social network for parents, said: "For most parents, the promise of moderate savings from installing a smart meter is helpful, but the real appeal lies in time-saving activities, such as being able to come home to a pre-heated oven. The smart home vision brings the benefits of smart meters to life."

Some 60% of respondents said the smart home makes smart meters a more appealing proposition, said the research report.  “By contrast, the prospect of energy price reduction is less of an appeal. Only 23% of those surveyed felt that energy prices would drop and only 18% would be motivated to switch to a smart meter if the annual cost savings were £50 or less,” it said.

A survey of 1,000 consumers, carried out by T-Systems,  revealed consumer fears of initial price rises and a lack of evidence on future savings associated with the government's plans for smart meters.

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