London, England --- (METERING.COM) --- October 16, 2012 - Consumers using prepay energy in Britain could gain substantial benefits from the rollout of smart meters, provided the challenges can be overcome, according to a new study from Accenture and the national consumer body Consumer Focus.

In fact prepay meter customers arguably have the most to gain from the rollout of smart meters in terms of potential improvements in customer service and greater convenience compared to those using other payment methods, suggests the report.

In addition smart metering could deliver, in the long run, improved competition and innovation in this sector that could lead to a downward pressure on price. There is also the opportunity to address the existing challenges of prepayment, such as problems with broken and lost payment devices and barriers to switching supplier.

Currently in Britain more than 13 percent of customers pay for their energy by prepayment. Once smart meters have been rolled out (by 2019), it is not unrealistic to expect more than one-third of consumers to be on some kind of prepayment offering, notes the report.

However, there is also a real risk that opportunities to deliver benefits will not be realized. A number of technological challenges exist. These include barriers to interoperability and a lack of agreed industry processes for managing switching and top-ups of smart meters. As yet relatively little consideration has been given to prepayment during the foundational stage by the national Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). As such the problems remain unresolved.

The report offers a number of principles and recommendations to overcome these issues, saying that timely action is needed by suppliers, the regulator Ofgem and the DECC if smart metering is to benefit prepay customers.

“It is widely acknowledged by the energy industry that prepayment was not a priority when energy markets were liberalized; it is important that we do not repeat this mistake as we enter into a smart world,” comments the report.

A recent survey by Consumer Focus quoted in the report found that 81 percent of customers using prepay were either very or quite satisfied with it. In particular they like the control that it offers, helping them budget and reducing the worry of receiving bills that could push them into debt.
 
A synopsis of the report was released at Metering, Billing/CRM Europe. The full report is due to be released in November.