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U.K. Regulators Defer Smart Meter Rollout

Neil Strother — May 11, 2013

Deploying smart meters across Britain turned out to take longer than expected.  In a surprise move, on May 10, the U.K. Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) announced it will postpone the mass rollout of smart meters for another year.  The extra time is needed for vendors to work out technical issues associated with the new equipment and conduct further testing, the Department said.

Before the delay, the plan called for installing more than 50 million smart meters (both electric and gas) in about 30 million homes and businesses, beginning in 2014 and lasting through 2019.  Now the massive deployment will begin in the fall of 2015, with expected completion by the end of 2020.

Vendors for the most part welcomed the delay.  Angela Knight, chief executive of Energy UK, an industry trade association, said the delay was a prudent move, allowing the program to “be completed in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.”

Nonetheless, for vendors counting on 2014 deployments, this delay has to hurt at some level.  Companies like Landis+Gyr, a major meter supplier to British utilities, and Trilliant, which supplies smart meter communications gear to British Gas, will need to push back their manufacturing schedules.  They’ll have to find other business as they wait for clarity on technology issues in the United Kingdom.

For utilities, on the other hand, the delay brings relief.  They can now take time to better plan for the massive deployments and the logistical challenges they entail.  However, this delay does not signal a complete halt to new smart meters in the United Kingdom.  British Gas, for instance, has already deployed some 800,000 smart meters as part of the first phase of the national rollout, and a government spokeswoman said there is nothing to stop energy suppliers from installing smart meters now, even as there is a delay in the nationwide rollout.

Consumers won’t be able to manage their consumption with the latest technology as soon as expected, but the new metering system should have fewer glitches once it moves to the big rollout stage in 2015.

The delay shouldn’t come as a big surprise.  Reshaping the grid on a country-wide scale is a huge undertaking, and getting it wrong would set the United Kingdom’s smart grid back by years.

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