Meter rollout ‘potentially catastrophic’, says IoD

The UK Government’s rollout of smart meters, digital energy meters designed to provide real-time usage statistics, should be “halted, altered or scrapped” to avoid a potentially catastrophic government IT disaster, the Institute of Directors has warned.

In a report (PDF) the IoD brands the £11bn scheme, the largest government IT project in history, “unwanted by consumers, devoid of credibility and mind-blowingly expensive”.

The business group calls on an incoming government to review the project and “consider a fresh start”.

The smart meter programme, which has the target of installing 100 million devices in homes and business by 2020, was initiated by Ed Miliband as energy secretary in 2008, following an EU Directive, and confirmed by the Coalition Agreement in 2010.

The report’s author, Dan Lewis, senior infrastructure advisor at the IoD, accuses the parties of “a conspiracy of silence among politicians in thrall to big ideas and even bigger budgets”.

Lewis continues: “The professed aims of the smart meter programme are laudable, and we all recognise the benefits of reducing consumption and increasing energy awareness. But there is little credible evidence to suggest that a scheme of this size and complexity will achieve those goals.” The IoD report’s concerns are:

  • Despite the EU Directive, 11 nations have ruled out electricity smart meters and “only five” are pushing ahead with the 2020 target for gas meters
  • The Government “refuses to publish” any of the reports on the programme by the Major Projects Authority
  • The cost-benefit analysis conducted by the Department for Energy and Climate Change is “so heavily redacted as to be almost unreadable”
  • The smart meter network would be “vulnerable to cyber-attack and disruption”
  • Introducing time-of-day pricing to shift consumer demand will “only work with price increases that are not politically realistic”

The report places the rollout of smart meters within the context of “previous large-scale IT fiascos, including the infamous NHS National Programme for IT, the eBorders Programme and the BBC’s disastrous Digital Media Initiative”.

But, according to Sky News, the report is “flawed”.

It said that Britain’s energy companies had launched an “extraordinary attack” on one of the country’s most respected business groups.

Sky News said it had obtained a copy of a private letter from Lawrence Slade, the chief executive of EnergyUK, in which he accuses Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors (IoD), of producing a “flawed”, “damaging” and “ill-informed” analysis of the issue.