The installation of smart energy meters in over three-quarters of households by 2020 will be scrapped if the Conservative Party wins the General Election, the party's manifesto says.
It's a policy change that will save £11 billion, but rather than shout about it the Conservatives have buried it in the middle of their massive manifesto document.
Turn to page 60 of the Tory manifesto and you’ll see a fairly innocuous sentence: “everyone will be offered a smart meter by 2020”.
Here’s why it matters.
A massive U-turn
It may seem like nothing, but that sentence is actually a huge U-turn on a much-hated government policy that has been rattling on for 20 years.
Bods in the electricity meter industry came up with smart meters two decades ago. The idea was that if we all can see how much energy we are using, we’ll use less.
The problem is that smart meters cost £50 a pop and have a 15-year lifespan. In contrast, old, straight-forward meters cost £15 and last for around 50 years.
So, smart meters would have to save us a lot of money in order to recoup the cost of having one.
Not the solution
Under the Labour government, three separate impact assessments showed that smart meters weren’t viable in Britain, while one assessment said they were. So the next government committed to put smart meters in 80% of homes by 2020.
The reason that most of the assessments said that they weren’t viable is because in Britain the meters are owned by energy suppliers, who have no motivation to encourage you to use less energy.
As a result, many of us now have these meters but have received no info from our supplier on how to cut our usage, nor been give any incentive to do so.
What a number of people have discovered is if you have a smart meter installed and then try to switch supplier, you face an uphill struggle as each supplier uses a different smart meter and can’t seem to communicate with another supplier’s machines. So switch and you may find yourself having to fork out for a new smart meter.
This means people are being put off switching and instead are stuck and unable to shop around for a better deal.
But what about the savings?
They are pitiful. The estimate is that by 2020 a smart meter will save a household around £11 a year, if they have one installed for both their gas and electricity.
As we’ve mentioned already, the cost of installing the meters is likely to hit £11 billion, and the energy firms are passing that on to the customer with price rises.
Now it seems the government has spotted an opportunity to ditch this plan quietly.