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David Prosser: Will customers smart?

Outlook For those who mistrust the UK's biggest energy companies' attitude to their customers, the roll-out of smart meters to every home in the UK will ring alarm bells. The Government said yesterday that energy suppliers would have to pay to install all those meters – at a typical cost of £340 per household – but also that it would not stop them recouping the money from customers.

Even if your supplier expects you only to share the cost, your meter is going to take some time to pay for itself. Contrary to some of the more outlandish claims made yesterday, smart meters, in themselves, save customers not a penny. The idea is that people will use energy more efficiently if the cost of it is more visible, but even then experts reckon that the average home will save just £28 a year by moderating behaviour.

For now, the greatest benefit will go to suppliers, who will shed the cost of sending staff out to read customers' meters. The long-term prognosis for customers is better. These meters should eventually be a key part of a smart electricity grid, through which customers with micro-generation facilities – solar panels on the roof, say – will be able to sell unused power back into the system. But that potential is some years off being realised.