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UTILITY Week 19th June USE

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6 | 19TH - 25TH JUNE 2015 | UTILITY WEEK People & Opinion The smart rollout needs a single leader View from the top Baroness Margaret McDonagh, chair, Smart Energy GB B ack in 2013, the govern- ment's plans for high- speed rail endured a torrid summer. The project appeared to lack leadership and costs seemed to be spiralling towards £80 billion. Then chancellor George Osborne stepped in and appointed David Higgins, the man who delivered the Olympics on time and within budget. Higgins arrived at HS2 as the hero of the infrastructure world, with a global reputation for overseeing complex, criti- cal programmes. Many may still have a problem with the policy, but few doubt it will be delivered efficiently. Now the chancellor must focus his much-vaunted strate- gic powers on another economic project of national importance. Over the course of this parlia- ment, smart gas and electricity meters will be offered to every home in Britain. By 2020, mil- lions of customers up and down the country will be able to see how much their energy is costing in real time. The absurdity of mechani- cal meter reading and estimated bills will come to an end. As a major national infrastructure project, the smart meter roll- out is right up there with HS2, Crossrail, the Olympics and air- port expansion. But because the programme is largely uncontro- versial, with cross-party support and consumers crying out for the change it will bring, it hasn't received the same level of politi- cal and media scrutiny. Governments have in the past struggled, by themselves, to deliver such technologically complex and organisationally challenging projects. Success- ful infrastructure programmes are usually implemented either by a specially created non- departmental body, or with the appointment of an effective new leader who has a track record of delivery. The smart meter programme is at present silent on the mech- anism for the co-ordination of this massive programme, which will extend into every home. We need to be able to name the chief executive with whom the buck stops. Putting aside any political dif- ferences, the plan to digitise Brit- ain's creaking energy system is simply too important to be le to chance. With smart meters, the energy industry will join the 21st century and become more com- petitive – with customers able to switch supplier in 24 hours with confidence they will get a better deal. We will be better able to control our national demand for energy and keep the lights on. More efficient energy usage will help reduce emissions. Smart meters will support a smarter overall approach to energy use in the home, as clever appliances and time-of-use tar- iffs become more widespread and the so-called internet of things takes shape. Because the meters are themselves small and unobtrusive, the profound change they will bring has been underestimated. It's the same as broadband, a technology-ena- bling platform that allows bigger and better things to happen. Politicians on all sides have not yet fully grasped the scale of the programme – the biggest infrastructure project of recent times. But to secure the wider economic benefits, the govern- ment and the energy industry must take action now to mitigate the risks. The advantages of the rollout for customers and energy sup- pliers are in my view unques- tionable, but if we carry on with existing arrangements, smart meters may take longer to arrive and end up costing more. Given that the public ultimately pay the bill, that can't be right. The government included a commitment in its manifesto to get meters into every home by 2020, so now let's find that chief executive and make it happen. Baroness McDonagh is not the only influential voice be con- cerned about the way in which the national rollout of smart meters is being conducted. Lord Witty, labour peer, has called for the smart meter pro- gramme to be intergrated with a new, comprehensive energy efficiency programme. He said: "The Green Deal hasn't worked, there has been a cutback on the energy effi- ciency improvements under Eco and we don't know what's going to happen beyond 2017. But we do know that we are going to have a smart meter programme rolling for at least another five years and that will mean access to every single house in the country." Dan Lewis, chief executive, Future Energy Strategies and author of the recent Institute of Director's report Not too Clever: Will Smart Meters be the Next Government IT disas- ter? is scathing: "Perhaps the only reason why the cost and ambition of this project has not become a national scandal already is because of a conspir- acy of silence among politicians in thrall to big ideas and even bigger budgets." An infrastructure project of the magnitude of the smart meter rollout needs to be driven by a chief executive to minimise costs and delays. The smart rollout: too big or not big enough?

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