Power industry ‘needs simplifying’ for smart meters

Smart metering has the power to revolutionise energy use in the UK - but only if Government and the power industry make "bold and brave" decisions now, a senior figure at E.ON UK has said.

Don Leiper, acting managing director of energy services, argued the industry would have to be simplified to successfully roll out smart meters – advanced gas and electricity meters which can feed information directly to power companies and to the consumers.

He said this may include awarding installation contracts to regional franchises, which would operate irrespective of the electricity supplier – a subject which has this week sparked a row between industry watchdog Ofgem and the Energy Retail Association.

Speaking at the Institution of Engineering and Technology on Tuesday, Mr Leiper rejected Ofgem’s argument that regional franchises would “effectively stitch up customers” by making them bear all the costs and risks of smart metering.

“We have an option now if we are brave enough to take it,” Mr Leiper told fellow industry experts.

“We can roll out smart metering on the complexity we have got, or we could choose to make it a simple environment.”

He argued that smart metering could fundamentally change the way energy is used through analysis of the data it will provide, drastically reduce customer complaints about billing, and encourage energy efficiency.

A survey of E.ON customers showed nearly 80% are interested in the idea because of the money savings it could provide – with environment seen as an additional benefit rather than a central motivation.

In contrast, Government sees the environmental benefits as the major driver of a switch to the meters, Eleanor Brooks, head of metering and billing at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, said.

She said Government wants to introduce display units to homes as an interim step to installing meters to help people begin cutting energy use as soon as possible, despite protests from the industry.

She said: “We have a vision for smart metering and it will take a few years to come on line. There are a few energy benefits that can be generated in that period.”

Kate Martin

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