Smart meter promotional budget soars into UK top 5

The budget for promotional expenditure to promote the installation of smart meters in British buildings is now among the five largest of any currently aimed at the British consumer.

Last year the total budget backing Smart Energy GB, which oversees the campaign, was already £49m. Informed estimates suggest that this will have grown considerably during the present financial year, possibly up to £60m.

The bulk of this expenditure is being spent upon paid advertisements, featuring the TV cartoon characters Gaz and Leccy. In a slogan redolent of the Brexit campaign, its main promise is to enable users to “take back control” of their energy, by avoiding having estimated bills in future.

Significantly, there are no longer many claims that this will automatically lead to greater energy efficiency- the original public justification for the entire exercise.

The reason for the increases in spending is the lack of substantive progress towards achieving the end objective. This is replacing 53m existing meters in 30m homes and small businesses. Initially this exercise was supposed to have been completed by 2020.

However, less than 20 per cent of the task had been completed by the start of 2018. Of the 8m “smart meters” already installed, many beneficiaries who have followed separate advice from government ministers and switched suppliers have found that their new meters cease being “smart”.

Expenditure upon the promotional campaign, like the meter and installation costs, is all being borne initially by the energy supplier companies. These costs, now estimated to reach £14bn in total, are then transferred onto the price charged for each kilowatt-hour of electricity or gas sold.

According to last year’s annual report, the Smart Energy promotional programme is overseen by a management team of just four people. Between them, this quartet received £532,000 last year. This worked out an average of £133,000 per head.

Four years ago, the consumer group, Which? called for the complete abandonment of the smart meter roll-out programme. Simultaneously, the Institute of Directors concluded that, by mandating technologies in a fast-moving field, the so-called Smart Energy exercise may end up being yet another government IT programme failure: “not smart at all”.

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