Smart meter installations hit by Covid-19 in 2020

20 January 2021   By Dr Lucy Brown, Editor

Data from ElectraLink shows 27% fewer smart meters were installed in UK homes in 2020 compared with 2019.

Less than two million smart meter installations took place during 2020, the worst installation figures since 2016.

It followed restrictions on engineers entering people's homes during the first coronavirus lockdown and subsequent limiting restrictions.

Overall, 14.7 million smart meters had been installed across the UK by the end of December 2020.

smart energy meter

Installations slow

Smart meter data from energy industry experts ElectraLink shows the number of smart meter installations during 2020 dropped by 27% in comparison with the previous year.

1.997 million smart meters were installed over the year, marking the lowest year for installations since 2016.

While the peak of installations was over three million in 2018, 2020 is the second year installations have dropped well below that level as the industry struggled to meet the conflicting demands of coronavirus restrictions and Government targets.

ElectraLink's analysis is based on data flows transmitted across their network, and they say it covers the vast majority of smart meter installations in the UK.

Learn more about smart meters, including the pros and cons for customers.

Coronavirus impact

The main reason for the 2020 slowdown of smart meter installations was the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Previous data from ElectraLink released in May 2020 showed a 95% decrease in the number of smart meters installed during the previous month compared to April 2019.

Energy engineers paused non-essential work during the early months of the coronavirus outbreak, meaning only 12,000 installations that were deemed essential or emergencies took place in April 2020. By contrast, 210,000 installations took place in April 2019.

Although normal energy regulations and non-essential work resumed in July 2020, the rate of installations over the rest of the year remained patchy.

ElectraLink data found a 7% reduction in installations during November 2020 compared to the previous month, and the rate of installations dipped again in December 2020 as coronavirus restrictions and Christmas affected activity.

Smart meter progress

According to ElectraLink, 14.7 million smart meters had been installed across the UK by the end of 2020.

It's clear that even without the impact of coronavirus on installations, the scrapped Government target of 50 million installations by the end of 2020 was incredibly unrealistic.

That target was replaced with a deadline of nationwide coverage by the end of 2024, although this then extended by a further six months in June 2020 when the Government conceded Covid-19 was having a huge impact on the ability of energy companies to install smart meters as planned.

At the moment, then, energy companies are expected to install smart meters to over 85% of their customers by the middle of 2025, and the Government are putting binding targets in place from July 2021 to encourage energy companies to pick up the pace of installations.

Their policy framework published in November 2020 sets a linear trajectory for every energy supplier, ensuring they get from where they are now to market-wide coverage.

The aim is to undertake a mid-term review in June 2023 to check how energy companies are performing and what rate of installations should be expected for the last two years of the framework.

Tolerance levels are also built into the delivery of these installation targets, recognising that unforeseen events like the coronavirus crisis have the potential to derail industry goals.

If energy companies fail to meet their smart meter installation targets from July 2021 onwards, they can be fined.

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