All 2 Lindsay Hoyle contributions to the Smart Meters Act 2018

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Tue 24th Oct 2017
Smart Meters Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion: House of Commons & Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons
Mon 5th Feb 2018
Smart Meters Bill
Commons Chamber

3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons

Smart Meters Bill

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion: House of Commons & Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons
Tuesday 24th October 2017

(6 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Smart Meters Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Kate Green Portrait Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One issue that has been raised by my constituents who are wary of the installation of smart meters is that they are unsure whether, if they change suppliers in the future, they would have to bear the cost of their smart meters being replaced by the new supplier. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be useful to be able to give consumers very strong assurances on that point?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle)
- Hansard - -

Order. I remind Members, to help them with their speeches, that after the current speech I will introduce an eight-minute limit.

Rebecca Long Bailey Portrait Rebecca Long Bailey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point. Perhaps the Minister can confirm how the Government plan to expand public awareness about this. Beyond the availability and the benefits of smart meters, it is imperative to explain the benefits of the data they collect, as well as how consumers can access and use those data to bring their energy bills down.

We have already heard comments about data. I draw to the Minister’s attention the fact that Smart Consumer Alliance has highlighted to me that its research shows that

“several consumers in the UK have contacted their energy suppliers to securely interface to the data provided by the home area network functionality of their smart meter, but…in all cases this has been unsuccessful because energy suppliers often block connection to the meters, quoting technical difficulties and other issues”.

Those consumer requests were professionally assisted by academics and technology innovators in the UK with devices that are certified under the UK smart metering standard. As the Minister and the Secretary of State are aware, this data is very useful for research, enabling market competition through accurate tariff and supplier switching, intelligent heating systems, and consumer education and guidance in energy efficiency, as well as many future innovations in home energy management. However, despite the fact that consumers are struggling to access their own data, it is thought that these devices are being routinely used by the energy companies for their own data collection purposes.

On the design of the smart metering regulation and standards, as well as the justification for the cost of smart meters, the House is aware that consumer benefit was at the fore in discussions before implementing the roll-out. Indeed, at condition 49.4 of the energy supplier licence, there is the obligation to support, free of charge, requests for data. The amount of data collected by smart meters is enormous, and has a significant value for customers and those with whom they choose to share the data. It would therefore be encouraging to hear from the Minster what plans he has, in the light of the concerns I have raised, to ensure that consumers have unimpeded access to the data to which they are entitled.

I turn now to the second part of the Bill, on the special administration regime. Given the centrality of the DCC to the successful working of the smart meter system, it is clear that we need a plan in the event of its insolvency. I am therefore concerned by clause 7. As the explanatory notes summarise, the clause includes provision

“requiring the holder of the licence to raise the charges imposed on its customers or users so as to raise such amounts as may be determined by the Secretary of State and to pay the amounts raised to specified persons for the purpose of making good a shortfall in the property of a smart meter communication licensee available to meet the expenses of smart meter communication licensee administration.”

They go on to state:

“This will allow the costs of smart meter communication licensee administration to be recouped via the licence mechanism from the industry.”

The DCC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Capita plc, to which the task of providing all the communications and infrastructure for the operation of smart meters has been outsourced. However, it is not clear from the Bill or the explanatory notes why, in the event of this wholly owned subsidiary of Capita going into administration, customers and users, per se, should foot the bill, especially when they have already suffered the cost of the smart meter roll-out in their energy bills.

The Select Committee on Science and Technology estimated that the total consumer benefits of smart meters amount to more than £5 billion from energy saving and microgeneration. However, the benefits for suppliers, which include the big six energy companies and others, total £8 billion. Despite that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) has said to the Government, customers are estimated to pay somewhere between £130 and £200 on their bills to enable suppliers to recover the installation cost of a smart meter. In fact, when two of the big six energy companies announced price rises in February, they stated that a substantial element of the 10% increase resulted from the smart meter policy. The Government responded that they would monitor the extent to which costs were passed on to customers and intervene to make sure that customers saw the benefits.

When he sums up, will the Minister confirm what recent assessment he has made of the costs that consumers face for smart meter installation? Can he still provide evidence of a clear long-term average energy bill saving for smart meter consumers, despite the sum for installation cost recovery? What assessment has the Minister made of the possible costs involved in making good any shortfall in the property of a smart meter communication licensee that is available to meet the expenses of such a licencee’s administration? I appreciate that that is a hypothetical question and the answer is difficult to quantify, but if he has not assessed that or attempted to do so, will he confirm whether he has considered setting a limit on the cost that can be passed on to consumers? What safeguards will he put in place to protect consumers against an unfair increase in their energy bills as a result of administration expenses? Why do the costs seem to be borne by customers or users alone? Has he considered levying the recovery of such costs on any other entities that might benefit from smart meter data collection? If not, what is his rationale for not looking at those other entities?

The Minister will no doubt realise that there is invariably a risk that consumers who have smart meters installed could face an increase, rather than a reduction, in their energy bills. It would be helpful if he could provide clear assurances on that matter. Although an insolvency situation is extremely unlikely, if smart meter consumers have hanging over them the possibility that they will have to write a blank cheque for administration costs, many people will be deterred from participating in a smart roll-out.

Smart Meters Bill

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Monday 5th February 2018

(6 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Smart Meters Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 5 February 2018 - (5 Feb 2018)
Stephen Kerr Portrait Stephen Kerr
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The purpose of the Bill, in facilitating the roll-out of smart meters, is to create a more energy-efficient economy, which should be reflected in cost savings for families, individuals and businesses. If that was not to be realised through the smart grid, that would be very disappointing.

There is so much in the future in terms of the changes we are seeing in the economy. I think of ultra-low emission vehicles, where there will be a necessity for smart meters and the smart grid for us to cope with the increased load on the grid. In response to the hon. Gentleman, I hope that somewhere in the not-too-distant future is the promise of an energy market that is more competitive and more responsive to its customers’ energy requirements.

Mass usage of ultra-low emission electric vehicles is inevitable. We will get to a tipping point with those vehicles, on account of the cost per unit, improvements in battery technology and the visible availability of the necessary infrastructure for charging at home and recharging away from home. All those things will create new demands on the grid, and all the flexibilities we will need to meet those demands depend on the smart grid and smart meters. Things such as new tariffs, variable tariffs and smart devices that can interact on the basis of the smart grid will all be a feature of the future.

However, there are things referenced in the new clauses and amendments that concern me. We heard evidence in the Public Bill Committee from Dr Richard Fitton of the University of Salford, who is responsible for a task group for the International Energy Agency on the use of smart meter data for determining the energy efficiency of properties. He made the point that for consumers to be fully engaged with smart meters, they need to be able to log on to the smart meter and connect it to smart devices in and around the home. He described the frustration that he and his team of experts have had in being able to make that connection happen. He said:

“a magic black box called the consumer access device…streams real-time data to things such as smart appliances and smart heating systems for homes.”––[Official Report, Smart Meters Public Bill Committee, 21 November 2017; c. 48, Q94.]

He went on to say that neither he nor any of his colleagues had ever been successful at connecting SMETS 2 meters to those devices. That is a concern, but it is not directly related to the amendments, so I will return to them.

There is evidence about the impact of smart meters on consumer behaviour. The literature produced by the Department talks about how these meters will facilitate switching. In fact, all the evidence that the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and the Public Bill Committee received suggests that smart meters probably will not have a direct impact on the rate of switching in the energy market. It should change consumers’ behaviour by piquing natural curiosity. When we first get a smart meter and have an in-home display, we can see how the energy usage in our home is affected by using different appliances around the house. That is very interesting and makes us aware of which appliances are the most energy-greedy, which could lead to a change of behaviour.

I would like to make some other points on energy awareness and my concerns that relate to new clause 4, with which I am broadly sympathetic but will not vote for. Even though I have sat through the Public Bill Committee and all the Bill’s stages, I am still not clear exactly what the Government’s objective ultimately is. They say they will make an offer of a smart meter to every consumer by 2020. That seems a rather fuzzy objective. How do we define what it means to make an offer? We could say that by sending out an email, letter or brochure to every household, every energy retailer has fulfilled its obligation to make the offer. I do not think that is really what the Government intend. Given the importance of smart meter installation to the creation of a smart grid, I would think the Government’s objective is in fact to get smart meters into a very high percentage of the total number of properties by 2020, but that is unstated, as far as I am aware. I would be delighted to be put right by the Minister on that.

I am aware, as a listener of commercial radio and television and a reader of the press, that there is currently a high-intensity programme going on to raise awareness among consumers about the availability of smart meters upon request. However, I question whether the case for the importance of smart meters has been well made.

Despite the fact that this subject could sound quite boring, it is actually very interesting, because this infrastructure is the basis for the fourth industrial revolution that will be seen in the homes of our countrymen and women. Given the current level of roll-out and the state of readiness of installation teams, it is highly likely that the Government can achieve their objective of offering smart meters to everyone, but it is highly unlikely that we will achieve anything like 100% installation of smart meters in all possible premises.

So far, somewhere between 8 million and 10 million SMETS 1 meters have been installed. I mention that estimated range because I am not sure what the recent figure is, and the update we received did not have a specific number. I think that it has been proved beyond any doubt that, as things stand, SMETS 1 meters are not interoperable. In other words, they do not communicate with any other supplier than the one that installed them; nor are they capable of sending data to the DCC at present. That is my understanding.

In the Public Bill Committee, we heard evidence about whether SMETS 1 meters could be made interoperable. The burden of evidence seems to be that without some sort of adjustment or update, SMETS 1 meters are not interoperable. That is my experience, which I have related before in a variety of settings, as someone who installed a smart meter and then tried to switch.

I have questions about SMETS 1 meters. How easy will it be to upgrade them at the appropriate time, so that we have the functionality of the new SMETS 2 meters? If they can be upgraded to the same functionality and interoperability, do we need to have SMETS 2 meters? How will SMETS 1 meters be upgraded and when?

There are many interesting points that have been covered by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test and that I have tried to make in relation to the Bill. There are questions that, if answered by the Minister, will facilitate this programme, which I completely acknowledge is of vital strategic importance to the future economy that the Government are trying to build.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - -

Order. I am sorry. I had not realised that the SNP spokesperson wanted to come in. It has been so long, we got lost somewhere along the way.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. You and I am sure the House will be relieved to hear that I am going to keep my remarks on Report very brief, because there will be another opportunity to speak and we are all keen, interested and excited to get to Third Reading.

I want to make one or two comments about new clauses 2 and 3, which are very important. I genuinely feel that the deadline to complete the roll-out by 2020 is simply not realistic. Beyond that, I am genuinely concerned that aggressive tactics have been deployed, and the fact that the energy companies face heavy fines if they do not meet this 2020 deadline only makes this more concerning. As I have said to the Minister, I feel there is a genuine conflict between best practice in rolling out smart meters to consumers and the potential penalties imposed on companies that do not meet the targets for the roll-out.

I am very concerned about the deadline of 2020 because the data show that, as of June 2017, only about 7.7 million smart meters had been installed out of a target of about 60 million premises. We know that the first generation of smart meters revealed some issues, and it is not yet clear whether there will be similar issues with the deployment of the second generation. In Scotland, many flats and tenements have banks of meters installed in communal areas, and there does not seem to be a solution for the installation of smart meters in those cases.

New clause 4 would require the Secretary of State to publish details about the cost and progress of the smart meter roll-out with reference to the 2020 deadline, which is very important. It is worth remembering that the cost of smart meters is £11 billion and rising, and that cost is borne by every single household. Not every single household is necessarily told that when they are contacted, but it is important to put it on the record.

Smart Energy GB has referred to a Government cost-benefit analysis. Everyone in the House agrees that there are cost benefits, but the figure of £11 billion is one to watch closely. The UK Government must be transparent and publish the cost and progress of the roll-out, given that the 2020 deadline seems unrealistic to many people, myself included. It seems clear to me that the deadline ought to be reviewed, so that the roll-out is completed efficiently and shields consumers from unfair tariff rises. I urge the Minister to take on board these comments. I will say no more about the other new clauses—time is short, and I will let other Members speak—but I look forward to Third Reading.