The major benefits of smart meters will be in paving the way for a smarter energy system where we can enhance energy security and reduce pollution by optimising energy generation and supply.
Interim Chair's comments
Dr Tania Mathias, interim Chair of the Committee, said:
"It would be easy to dismiss the smart meter project as an inefficient way of saving a small amount of money on energy bills, but the evidence suggests there are major national benefits, including establishing a smarter, more energy secure grid. The Government needs to have more clarity around this so householders are clear about the true benefits."
Dr Mathias also highlighted the need to ensure that consumers are engaged with the smart meter rollout so that they can access the benefits:
"The smart meter mass rollout has been delayed, but the Government and suppliers must not skimp on engaging with customers in the rush to fit 50 million more meters by 2020. The evidence shows that homeowners and businesses need to receive tailored advice about how they can benefit from smart metering. The 'smartness' comes from what customers can do with them—fit and forget would be a wasted opportunity."
Interoperability of smart meters between suppliers
The Committee also notes that in some cases customers who received meters during the 'foundation phase' of the project, which began in 2011, will lose the 'smart' functionality if they switch supplier. This will not affect meters in the mass rollout due to start shortly, but the issue with early meters remains unresolved. More than 3 million smart meters have been deployed so far.
Dr Mathias said:
"The Government has known for years that early smart meters can lose their smartness if the customer switches supplier. Ministers merely have an ‘ambition’ to fix this by 2020. Taxpayers will be unimpressed with this situation, and timely action is needed."
Smart meter security
The inquiry also explored smart meter security, and members met with the Government’s security experts from GCHQ to discuss this.
Dr Mathias said:
"GCHQ's involvement in designing the security for the smart metering system gives confidence that security is being taken seriously, but the Government will need to do more to convince and reassure customers that the technology is safe from being hacked."
This is the Committee's first "evidence check" report. It set the Government the task of preparing statements on the evidence base for nine policy areas, but the results were mixed. There were "regrettable" frustrating delays in the Government responding in some cases, and Ministers were unable to supply statements in two areas where a lead department could not be identified.
The quality of the some Government responses raising concerns about the Government's ability to communicate the evidence behind its policies. At best, this suggests that some departments lack experience of communicating their evidence base. At worst, it could mean that some policies lack the necessary evidence.
Dr Tania Mathias MP, interim Chair of the Committee, said:
"Evidence should be at the heart of Government policy. It is a serious concern that the Government struggled to respond to our requests for evidence, and this can weaken trust in the Government. Whitehall needs to improve how it communicates its evidence base and hopefully will learn from this exercise."
The Government's Smart Metering Implementation Programme requires energy suppliers to offer 53 million meters to homes and small businesses in Great Britain by 2020. Smart meters are being rolled out in two phases.
The foundation phase began in 2013. The mass rollout phase is expected to begin in earnest in the coming weeks, after several delays. There are now over 3.6 million smart meters operating across homes and businesses in Great Britain.
The Committee used the Institute for Government's Evidence Transparency Framework (PDF 114 KB) to assess the Government's evidence check statements.
Image: Smart Energy GB