Smart Metering: Too little, too late for the utilities sector?

The other key question to be answered to begin with is: are smart meters actually the right direction at all? The way people access and interact with information has changed forever with the launch of handheld devices; online applications are now commonplace across smart phones, TVs, PCs and tablets. Individuals and businesses can instantaneously monitor and manage their resources, from finances and shopping accounts to documents and social media activity. 

Yet, despite this revolution in technology, the UK smart meter mandate still includes the requirement for over 25m in-home and business devices to be rolled out. These devices arguably serve one purpose: to display current consumption levels. How much smarter are these devices than the analog meters they replace? Could an app, rather than a smart meter, be another option? 

Surely people would be much more engaged with a real-time display on a device they use all the time – one that displays not just kilowatts or therms, but the value in pounds and pence of the energy consumed and the consumption saved year-on-year. And what exactly is the cost, both in monetary and environmental terms, of developing, manufacturing, and distributing over 25m smart meters? 

The insistence of smart meters, as opposed to building online customer portals and communities, could culminate in a large waste of resources and a missed opportunity for customer engagement, education and experience. Which? warn that the current plans contain no way of controlling the costs associated with the roll-out, or how they are passed on to customers who are already struggling with high fuel bills. The Telegraph goes as far as to say: stop this smart meter fiasco

With fast rising energy bills (partly out of the providers? hands with the ever increasing burden of government legislation) and many utility providers struggling to get basic bills right for consumers, the energy sector is ripe for a fundamental shift in its practices and customer relationships. But due to time delays and missed opportunities, the smart meter rollout may hinder, rather than help. 

So, just how will the current UK smart meter roll-out deliver a brighter, cleaner and affordable future for consumers? All we know at present is that this could be one of the biggest missed opportunities seen in UK infrastructure development over the past 50 years.

Kripa Subramanian is Vice President of Utilities, UK and Europe at EXL Service.

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