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Current±’s 2018 Review: The smart meter ‘car crash’ and evolving suppliers

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

Our re-cap of the year continues with the biggest stories in July and August, as the country’s smart meter roll-out is described as a car crash and independent energy suppliers ramp up investment.

Parliamentarians in shock agreement, describe smart meter rollout as a car crash

There was shock in Westminster in July as MPs reached an agreement; the smart meter roll-out is bearing all the signs of a car crash. Smart meter installation figures have failed to increase as necessary and there are now real doubts that the 2020 deadline will be kept. Costs have risen as suppliers rush to get up to speed and, as shadow energy minister Alan Whitehead said in July; “The car hasn't actually crashed yet but all the signs of the accident are around us.”

“We're facing frankly almost impossible looking peaks of installations in 2019, with vans that don't actually have meters in them because those meters have not been made. So I think we're in a really bad position.”

Conservative MP James Heappey was in agreement with Whitehead on the pace of the roll-out, but not on the sentiment that technology that may not be in full working order be forced onto consumers.

“I don't think we should pause or force everyone over to SMETS2 when SMETS2 aren't working because I think we've worked quite hard over the last few years to persuade Daily Mail readers in particular that Putin's not going to hack their toaster. What we don't want is another consumer confidence issue to arise because SMETS2 meters are being forced on the market at pace,” he said.

And the smart meter roll-out debacle has shown no signs of abating since the summer, and 2019 now looks set to be a crunch year.

Grid summer low demand warnings ringing true

If it was heating up in the Commons chamber, so too was it outside, and National Grid’s warnings of ‘summer low’ demands were ringing true.

National Grid’s Summer Outlook, published in April, warned that the country’s thriving solar generation could send demand on the transmission grid to new lows. Solar records tumbled in May, and a heatwave that gripped much of the country throughout much of the country too catered for significant amounts of the country’s energy demand.

In late July Octopus Energy Investments, which owns more than 1GW of solar in the UK, revealed that its generation for the 30-day period ending 22 July 2018 was nearly 20% ahead of forecast. “You often hear of record national outputs from wind farms based on our much loved British climate, but the same can be said for UK solar power during sunny spells like the one we are currently enjoying. This is a perfect example of how important it is to develop a truly diversified energy mix,” Matt Setchell, head of Octopus’ energy investments team, said.

The rise of ‘EnTech’ and an energy supplier revolution

Bubbling under the surface of the energy market throughout the course of 2018 was the mood that things were changing. Switching figures continued to grow steadily, the price cap was looming and more sophisticated business models and platforms were emerging.

Bulb, one of the fastest growing suppliers of the last three years, appeared to ride on the crest of that wave with a £60 million investment round which it intended to use to build on its energy tech teams.

Investors in the firm – Magnetar Capital and DST Global – were particularly eye catching too. Venture capital firm DST Global was founded by Russian-born billionaire Yuri Milner and counts among its investments Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Airbnb, Whatsapp and Alibaba, while Magnetar Capital is a prolific investor in UK renewables.

That wave was too being felt by OVO Energy, another major challenger to the Big Six in the UK. Toby Ferenczi, director of strategy at OVO, sat down with Current± in early July to discuss how the market was “entering an era of ‘Entech’”, one that would trigger a “huge amount of innovation” moving forward.

And it’s one such trend that Current± will be following particularly closely in 2019, so watch this space.

Part one of our re-cap of 2018, featuring the top stories from January and February, can be read here.

Part two of our re-cap of 2018, featuring the top stories from March and April, can be read here.

Part three of our re-cap of 2018, featuring the top stories from May and June, can be read here.


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