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COVID-19: Smart meter rollout paused following government guidance

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

The pause button has been hit on the smart meter rollout during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trade association Energy UK has said that due to the outbreak, its members have suspended all non-essential field-based activity in line with the very latest guidance from government.

A spokesperson for Energy UK said that all suppliers were following the latest government, NHS and Public Health England guidelines in relation to home visits for any purpose.

“This currently means non-essential field-based activity has largely been suspended in line with this latest guidance.

“Smart meters will still be installed in emergency or essential situations, for example if there is a fault or loss of supply. Energy suppliers will seek to reduce social interactions with customers in these situations in line with the latest guidance.

“Energy UK and its members are working closely with the relevant government departments and the energy regulator, Ofgem, and will continue to do so throughout this period.”

This hiatus comes as the smart meter rollout was picking up pace, surging 8.2% in Q4 2019 compared to the year before.

The Data Communications Company (DCC) announced in February that the four millionth second-generation smart meter (SMETS2) had been installed, just two months after the three million milestone was hit.

Despite the increase in installation rate however, there was already concerns that installers will not meet targets.

The original date for the rollout had already been pushed back to a goal of 85% by 2024 by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) following numerous struggles.

Now with at least three weeks without installations during the lockdown, this target appears even more unlikely.

However, there is hope that given the current crisis, the government and Ofgem will view suppliers with leniency.

In a recent blog post, Ofgem CEO Jonathan Brearley stated: “We will be pragmatic in our approach to compliance during this period, and companies should not be afraid to do the right thing for their customers.”

The breadth of this, however, will remain to be seen.

Will Owen, energy expert at Uswitch added that it was no surprise that ‘non-essential’ work like the smart meters rollout is paused as “the risk of engineers and consumers catching or spreading the virus is too great".

“However, if you have an urgent problem that needs fixing, it’s reassuring to know that workers will continue to fix smart meters in emergency situations such as loss of power supply.

“We trust that the government and Ofgem will be pragmatic about evaluating energy suppliers' targets on smart meter installation, and in agreeing new goals once the pandemic has passed.”

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