Number of smart meters operating in Britain by end of June 2020 almost unchanged from March due to Covid-19 safety restrictions, new figures confirm
The national rollout of smart meters across homes and businesses took a predictable nosedive during the coronavirus crisis, with just 137,000 devices installed by energy suppliers between April and the end of June 2020 as lockdown conditions restricted activity across the country, the latest figures show.
Data released by the government today shows the number of smart meters installed in UK homes during the three-month period plummeted by 850,000 compared to the first quarter of the year, reaching just over 135,000 new installations after energy firms were forced to suspend installations in March.
Meanwhile, just 2,000 non-domestic devices were installed between April and June, 20,000 fewer than that achieved during the first three months of 2020.
It means that, overall, the number of smart and advanced gas and electricity meters operating in Britain is almost unchanged, standing at 21.5 million as of the end of June 2020, the data shows.
The government lamented the "significant downwards impact" of Covid-19 restrictions on smart meter installations during the second quarter of 2020, and warned the pandemic would likely continue to effect the rollout until at least the end of September.
"This decrease was expected due to the coronavirus pandemic, which had an effect on the entire quarter and led to energy suppliers focussing on emergency metering work and supporting those in vulnerable circumstances after stay at home guidance was issued on 23 March 2020," the government explained. "Industry data suggests the impact of the pandemic is likely to continue in Q3 2020, though volumes have been on an upward trend since the end of May 2020 following the publication of government safe working guidance."
Smart meters are seen as a crucial pillar of the government's net zero emissions drive, offering users immediate data on their energy use to encourage more energy efficient behaviours, while also enabling suppliers to offer specially-designed time-of-use energy tariffs that can help integrate more renewable energy onto the grid.
However, the national rollout has long proved challenging for the government, which was last year forced to dilute its original aim for all homes and businesses to be offered a smart meter by 2020, setting a new goal for 85 per cent of homes and businesses to have a device installed by 2024.
The impact of Covid-19 has therefore further dented the government's ambitions, as energy suppliers were restricted to only offering emergency installations after lockdown measures were introduced in late March 2020. The industry has now been granted an additional six months to meet their installation targets as a result.
In a bid to accelerate the rollout, meanwhile, the government announced plans in June to consult on a new set of "ambitious" targets running to 2025 which energy suppliers would be required to meet from July next year.
However, a number of operators have continued to struggle to meet the existing targets and just last week SSE Energy Services agreed to pay £1.2m to energy regulator Ofgem after failing to meet its installation targets for 2019.
Robert Cheesewright, director of corporate affairs at Smart Energy GB - the organisation tasked with overseeing the national rollout - said smart meters were a crucial tool in combatting the climate crisis and ensuring the energy system "is smart, clean and resilient for the future".
"While the latest figures show a reduction in installation numbers at the height of national lockdown, we expect installation numbers to rebound in future reports as restrictions are eased," he said. "Every single smart meter installed in Great Britain is a step closer to a smarter energy system that will be more efficient and make greater use of renewable energy."
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