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British Gas boss issues smart meter 'street by street' warning in major new update

The boss of the British Gas parent company has said that every home should be forced to have a smart meter installed.

Chris O’Shea said only a ‘street by street’ installation programme will work to meet smart meter targets.

He argued the mass adoption of smart meters is needed to allow the UK to meet its net zero targets.

This is because, in the future, the smart meters will be used to manage household energy use to ensure demand does not overtake supply.

In simple terms the meters will be used to charge more during peak times – typically early evenings – to effectively force people to switch energy use to other times.

Similarly, people will be offered cheap electricity at other periods, such as through the night, to charge electric cars and run washing machines or dishwashers.

Advocates of the meters argue that better management of the nation’s energy supply through a so-called smart grid will avoid the need to build new power stations so reducing everyone’s bills.

Speaking to MPs on the House of Commons Energy Select Committee this week, Mr O’Shea, who is the chief executive of Centrica, which owns British Gas, called for a ‘street by street rather than customer to customer’ installation for the devices over a five year period.

He said: “We think that in order to have the proper smart grid that’s required to keep costs low in the future, everybody should have a smart meter.

“One of the things we should consider as to whether this is a voluntary programme, or whether it should be mandatory.”

Many households have refused offers from their energy firms to install smart meters. A number have raised concerns that the devices do not work properly.

Mr O’Shea said more than one in three of British Gas customers have ignored offers to install a smart meter.

The chief executive, who was paid £8 million last year, told MPs: “I have customers that write to me saying, “Please stop bothering me. I don’t want a smart meter.”

“We found that 44 per cent of our customers don’t have them, of whom 600,000, or about 8 percent, have said they don’t want one.

“So for 36 percent of customers we are not sure whether they will take one or not.”

The industry regulator, Ofgem, has found British Gas and other leading energy retailers guilty of failing to do enough to encourage householders to have a smart meter.

In November last year, six suppliers were ordered to pay £10.8million in penalties for failing to meet targets to install smart meters. British alone was ordered to pay £3.4million.

Smart Energy GB, a non-profit organisation which promotes smart meters, said there were now nearly 35million of the devices in the country.

However, around 4million of these are failing to operate as intended because of problems with the first generation of the devices that were installed in homes and businesses.

Director of Energy at Citizens Advice, Gillian Cooper, said there are genuine concerns about failures of the meters.

She said: “Smart meters can bring huge benefits. But when things go wrong we know it can be incredibly frustrating for energy customers, whether it’s a bigger than expected bill or issues when your smart meter goes offline.

“Many people are struggling to get problems with their smart meters fixed quickly, and we’re concerned their rights are lacking.”

Smart Energy GB said: ‘There are now almost 35 million smart meters (representing 61 percent of all meters) in Great Britain.

“The vast majority are operating as intended, with an overall improvement in the proportion of smart meters operating in smart mode since 2022, up from 87.3 per cent at the end of 2022 to 88.6 per cent at the end of 2023.

“We know that most people have a very positive experience with their smart meter, but we also understand the frustration felt by some whose meter may be temporarily operating without all of its smart features.

“If your smart meter is not sending automatic readings to your energy supplier, please be reassured that it will still be recording your energy use correctly.

“We would recommend that you send your supplier meter readings to make sure you receive accurate, rather than estimated, bills until all of the features of your smart meter have been restored.”

Ofgem said suppliers are required by their licence to take all reasonable steps to ensure they are able to communicate with their customers’ smart meters.

It said that if a meter loses smart functionality, it should continue to accurately measure usage as before, and customers will still be able to take manual readings from the meter in the traditional way.


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