The old question over gas meters revisited

As the nation’s smart meter rollout stutters on, it is time to ask again whether there is any point in installing gas smart meters.

The question has been raised from the start of the programme. It is not required under the EU Directive that finally forced the UK to stop talking about smart and start installing and gas is balanced on a daily basis, and physical gas flow is not really responsive, so half hourly metering doesn’t offer not much benefit. Well, the decision was taken: gas along with electricity.

What has changed? Heat decarbonisation has been raised up the agenda – not before time – and along with it the future of the gas network. That network’s future is still uncertain. But it seems most likely that there will be a patchwork of approaches depending on local circumstances. Some areas could be switched to hydrogen gas instead of methane, and that has attendant questions around flow rates and energy values (as hydrogen carries less energy than methane). In those areas, we may want to delay installing new smart gas meters until the switch to hydrogen takes place. Other areas, we hear, are likely to have electric heating or district heat networks, with no gas at all.

The evolution of the gas network won’t be fast, so there may be some benefits from installing smart gas meters now. Accuracy and readibility are not small issues, and neither is the ability to understand your usage via an energy display.

But the heat evolution will also be expensive. So it is worth asking whether the current investment in smart gas meters will be wasted, and millions of meter assets stranded. Could that money be better spent? Would it be better spent on large scale demonstration projects that will help us determine which will be the most successful heat options in future, and on further research to try to predict which areas will still need gas meters in ten or twenty years time?

To take one example: if the north west and Leeds are prime targets for converting gas networks to hydrogen, should we be reconsidering their smart gas meter rollout?

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