Mid-2013 would be the first fixed date for EU countries to report to the Commission on whether they think smart meters should be deployed in their country. For this, they will have had to carry out a cost-benefit analysis showing whether deploying the technology makes sense economically.
This leaves member states less than a year to finish their analyses and leaves the Commission even less time to centralise all the results, examine them and draw up a benchmark report.
Member states had to undertake a national cost-benefit analysis on smart metering technologies by 3 September 2012, as required by the 2009 directives on electricity and gas liberalisation. But there is no assurance that all EU countries have respected this deadline.
Marlene Holzner, the Commission's energy spokeswoman, told EurActiv that the EU executive would "proceed with a comparative evaluation of the respective cost-benefit analyses and the member states' roll-out plans". The Commission is “monitoring the exercise in an informal manner” in close collaboration with member states, Holzner said.
The aim is to align the methodologies for the cost-benefit analysis, she added.
"The Commission will consider issuing by mid- 2013 a benchmarking report with a general assessment of the outcome of this exercise and plans to launch a discussion on best practices and lessons learned from on-going or completed smart metering roll-out initiatives in the EU," Holzner said.
The Commission is waiting for member states to submit "a representative sample, if not a concrete set" of their results, in order to start comparing them and draw all conclusions by mid-2013.
"We are to a certain extent flexible, however we are urging the member states to inform us as soon as possible of their cost-benefit analyses and their roll-out plans," Holzner said.
As a first step, the Commission is due to publish a progress report on the internal energy market. The document, seen by EurActiv, urges member stated to increase the number of smart meters from some 45 million at present to at least 240 million by 2020.
If the roll-out of smart meters is found to be cost-effective, at least 80% of consumers will be required to be equipped with intelligent metering systems by 2020. But who exactly will bear the costs for the smart meters, their installation, management and maintenance is not known yet.
Industry claims it is waiting for the national regulating authorities to decide how costs will be spread amongst distribution networks, suppliers and consumers, said John Harris, of Swiss company Landys+Gyr, which produces and distributes smart meters.
The expectation is that consumers' energy bills will rise as a result to cover the costs of deploying the technology.
“Energy suppliers will, of course, try to push any cost they have on final customers,” said Krzysztof Gierulski of the European Commission's energy efficiency unit, speaking at a smart meter workshop in Brussels.
“Companies need to be sure they will make a profit in order to invest,” said Gunnar Lorenz of trade group Eurelectric, which represents large power suppliers. “We have to explain to customers what this box is and what it does so that they trust it and feel comfortable with it and do not feel like they are monitored by a big brother.”
The European consumers' organisation BEUC is critical of the "socialisation" of cost – in other words, spreading the costs of rolling out smart meters in 80% of households in an even manner amongst all of their clients.
“There should be a fair sharing of costs for all investments required, but also between all actors that could potentially benefit from the new meters: the different functionalities and benefits that they bring to different actors need to be analysed and thus determine the distribution of costs amongst those actors,” said Monika Stajnarova, an expert on smart meters at BEUC.