Smart meters 'only lead to small savings on energy bills'

Smart meters are likely to save individual consumers only a small amount of money on their energy bills and the Government needs to work harder to convince households of the true benefits of the rollout, according to a report.

The Science and Technology 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 evidence suggested there were major national benefits, such as a smarter and more secure grid and reduced pollution.

Smart meters have been promoted to consumers as a way to reduce their energy bills by checking their usage in real time via a monitor and avoid estimated bills as a result of the meter sending automatic readings to the supplier.

But the committee said there remained the "unresolved" problem of early meters installed in the first phase of the rollout losing their "smart" function when the customer switches supplier, noting that more than three million meters were already in place.

The committee's interim chairwoman, Tania 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."

She added: "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."

The rollout will see suppliers offer smart meters to 53 million homes and small businesses across Britain by 2020.

The foundation phase began in 2013 and the mass rollout is expected to begin in earnest in the coming weeks after several delays.

Committee members also met with experts from GCHQ to discuss security around the meters, and 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."

The committee raised concerns that its first "evidence check" of the rollout was hampered by "regrettable" delays in the Government's response in some cases, and ministers were unable to supply statements in two areas where a lead department could not be identified.

It noted that the quality of some of the Government's responses raised concerns about its ability to communicate the evidence behind its policies, saying that: "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 Mathias 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."

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokeswoman said: "Smart meters will bring Britain's energy infrastructure into the 21st century - as the committee has made clear.

"The rollout will end estimated bills, help consumers save energy and money, and support a smarter energy system for decades to come."

Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Smart Energy GB, which is running the campaign for the rollout, said: "It's very positive to see the Science and Technology Committee recognising the critical role of consumer engagement in achieving the aims of Britain's smart meter rollout.

"And that it endorses Smart Energy GB's behaviour change approach to achieving this goal.

"The committee has also emphasised the transformative effect smart meters will have, not only on how we buy and use energy as individual consumers, but on Britain's energy infrastructure as a whole."

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