EDF Energy has urged the government to rethink its £11 billion smart meter programme, warning that it faces “many challenges” and could end in failure.
Vincent de Rivaz, UK head of the French energy company, said the timeline and costs were among issues that needed to be reviewed to maintain public confidence in the programme.
The government has told suppliers they must try to install the smart gas and electricity meters in every home and small business by 2020.
The meters, which take automatic readings and send them back to suppliers, will end estimated billing and enable households to monitor their usage in real-time, encouraging them to consume less.
However, the plan has been plagued by setbacks and delays leading to concern the timescale is unrealistic and the costs, levied on energy bills, could spiral beyond £11 billion.
“We need to be honest with ourselves on all the issues: security, safety, quality, costs and timeline. We all have a shared responsibility in the success or the failure of this programme,” Mr de Rivaz said.
The Times reported this month that six million households were expected to be fitted with smart meters that may not work if they switch supplier because of delays to the IT systems needed to install a new type that can be reliably switched.
Mr de Rivaz said: “Delays to the communications infrastructure now mean millions more customers will get less digitally sophisticated meters than intended.
“These meters make things more complex, for the moment, when a customer switches supplier and they cost more than the next-generation meters.”
SSE last year called for an urgent reconsideration of the delivery timetable. It said that delays to IT systems were “undermining confidence in the programme and compressing the window in which suppliers can roll out the enduring solution at scale, driving up costs and creating challenges for the industry”.
Several other suppliers are understood to share the concerns but have not spoken out on the politically contentious issue.
The government is preparing to publish its plans to intervene on household energy prices, after Theresa May said she would “step in” to tackle a market “manifestly not working” for consumers.
Mr de Rivaz told the Future of Utilities conference he could “understand why the prime minister wants to consider doing more”, to ensure that “customers who still don’t really think about their electricity bill and especially vulnerable customers are not left behind”.
He claimed it was “important any short-term measures don’t let the industry off the hook when it comes delivering long term the objective of a better market for all customers”.
A Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Department spokeswoman said: “Energy suppliers must complete the rollout by the end of 2020.”