Rollout of the UK’s £11bn ($17bn) smart meter programme has been delayed until late 2016, according to statements last week by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Installation on a national scale was scheduled to begin in late 2015 (after a previous delay in 2013) with the inauguration of a central communications system designed to transfer data between the meters and utilities. However, the company developing the system now says it will not be ready in time.

The Data Communications Company (DCC) said in a statement that there is “no feasible way” to stick to the current timetable. According to the firm, some parts of the system will need to be redesigned after DECC revised the specifications.

DCC has said the redesign could result in up to £90m in additional project costs. In addition, the programme is now unlikely to meet its targeted completion deadline of 2020, industry analysts say, while a survey taken in June showed that under half of British households actually want smart meters.

At this week’s Smart Grid World Summit in London, a number of participants said the data provided by smart meters will revolutionize utilities’ relationship with energy consumers in eliminating an outdated and often inaccurate billing system as well as giving consumers more insight into their energy use. Stephen Woodhouse, director of management consultancy Poyry, said the utility of the future will need to “deploy user-friendly applications and automation tools” in order to build a relationship with customers, many of whom will be ‘prosumers’ who generate their own energy.

Future utilities “can continue to dominate electricity supply,” Woodhouse continued, although their current business model “does not meet the needs of their customers”. Others also touted smart meters as a way for UK utilities to win back customer trust, which has been eroded in recent years due to rising bills.

However, said James Kirk, chief architect at data solutions firm Ensek, “smart metering isn’t the answer to everything” for utilities struggling to reshape their businesses around new models of energy production and consumption. But smart metering can offer utilities a “massive competitive advantage” as well as improving customer trust, he added.

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