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House of Lords Hansard
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20 November 2018
Volume 794

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made on the roll-out of SMET2 smart meters.

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My Lords, more than 12 million smart meters are operating across Great Britain, with more than 400,000 meters installed every month. As of Sunday 18 November—two days ago—industry information showed that more than 138,000 SMETS 2 meters were connected to the national smart metering network.

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I thank the Minister for that response. Yesterday, Which?, the consumers’ champion, published a report that stated that the Government’s £11 billion rollout of smart meters to hard-pressed customers is seriously behind schedule. To meet their target of a smart meter in every household and small business would now require 30 smart meters to be installed every minute of every day between now and the end of 2020. Currently less than one-third of that figure is actually taking place. In addition, the Government’s projected financial benefits to customers have been slashed from £47 a year to less than £1 a month. Can the Minister say what specific actions the Government are taking to both turn around the lamentable rollout performance and restore the projected financial benefits to customers?

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My Lords, I am aware of that report but, as I made clear in my original Answer, we are installing more than 400,000 meters every month and that figure is increasing. We are still confident that we will be able to ensure that by the end of 2020 every household in the country will have been offered a meter. That is the aim that we have set out. We are also still confident that we expect to see a net benefit of around £5.7 billion for the entire rollout—benefits for individual consumers as they get greater choice and the advantage of being able to monitor their electricity and therefore keep their bills down, and advantages to the companies themselves.

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My Lords, perhaps it is worth reminding the House that this programme of smart meter implementation will cost the country £11 billion. Sure, we need the customer benefits in savings from that but we also need to use them to create a properly distributed energy system in this country. Can the Minister explain to me how SMETS meters will achieve that?

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SMETS meters will allow the consumers greater benefits in that it will be easier for them to switch supplier and to monitor their use. Therefore it will be easier for them to cut their consumption of electricity and we will see a reduction in energy use, with benefits to the consumer in the cost, and benefits to the country in lower carbon use. As I said, there will be a net benefit overall after that cost of some £5.7 billion.

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My Lords, will the Minister confirm that many if not all of the smart meters currently offered are such that they cannot work if the consumer switches from one supplier to another? That is a pretty good reason for not having a smart meter. I wonder whether the people organising Brexit are also organising the smart meters.

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My Lords, the companies have been installing the SMETS 1 meters and we are now moving on to SMETS 2. Changes happen when one moves from a SMETS 1 to a SMETS 2 but the same benefits will still be available when consumers switch supplier in due course, and they will be able to benefit from those. There will be a slight delay in that but by 2020, all those who switch will find that they have the same benefits on SMETS 1 as they have on SMETS 2.

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My Lords, when it is 2020 and everyone has the smart meters, it will be possible for those smart meters to choose the lowest cost provider. If they do that, consumers will all swap to one provider and that will put the rest of the companies into bankruptcy, meaning there will be no competition at all.

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My Lords, I know that noble Lords opposite do not like competition but the advantage of this system is that it offers choice to the consumer and, as the noble Lord quite rightly says, will offer the ability for people to move on to an app that will allow them to choose the cheapest supplier. Once there is competition, I think the noble Lord will find that the 60 or 70 supplier companies involved will compete among themselves to offer the best possible deals.

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My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that, as in the question from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, this is putting a lot of people off taking smart meters? At what stage should I take a smart meter when I know that if I switch when my present contract runs out, I will not have to have a new smart meter fitted?

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I do not know whether the companies have approached my noble friend but I hope that she will take the opportunity to have one installed when her supplier offers her a company. She will find that when she has the SMETS 2, she will have the benefit of being able to switch without any difficulty. That will be available for SMETS 1 meters in due course.

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Can the Minister give a guarantee that the cybersecurity of the meters is absolutely 100%, and that they cannot be interfered with by any external force? Do the consumers get the knowledge that the pattern of their household living, on a minute-by-minute basis, is recorded by external powers which will later monetise that figure? I have refused twice and will continue to do so.

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It is entirely open to the noble Lord to refuse to have a meter, if he so wishes. All we are trying to ensure is that everyone is offered a smart meter if they should so wish, because we feel that to go on using metering technology that is somewhat over 100 years old is not the right approach and that new meters would be better. I can give him an assurance that GCHQ and other people have looked at the security of the smart meters and are satisfied that they are suitably secure.

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My Lords, is the Minister aware that if you have solar panels on your roof, you cannot have a smart meter? I know that because I have tried several times and have been told that I cannot have a smart meter if I have solar panels, which we are all encouraged to have. Does he agree that unless a smart meter is developed that can work with solar panels, we are never going to have smart meters in every household in the country?

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I am afraid that what the noble Baroness says is a myth, but I will look at her case. There is no reason why one cannot have solar panels feeding into a smart meter and being taken into account. If the noble Baroness is having problems, she can come to me and I will look at them.