Other Questions.

Electricity Generation.

Simon Coveney


6 Deputy Simon Coveney asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on whether the €600 million cost of the east-west interconnector represents value for money in terms of construction and completion costs versus similar projects in other parts of Europe; if he is satisfied that the tendering process has ensured this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24094/09]

EirGrid, with the approval of the Government, is developing, on schedule, the east-west interconnector. The Government is fully committed to the cost effective delivery of the interconnector as a key strategic energy infrastructure project.

There are several benefits for the economy, the energy market and consumers from this development. It will enhance security of energy supply by delivering additional capacity to the all-island electricity market and linking it to the United Kingdom, which is, in turn, connected to mainland European markets. It will underpin delivery of Ireland's renewable generation targets by providing additional back-up at times of low wind and enabling the export of wind energy from Ireland at times of high wind generation. It will support further competition in the electricity market and exert downward pressure on prices. It will allow for a diversification of the national fuel mix and supply sources by reducing our dependence on electricity generated from imported natural gas. In addition, it will provide EirGrid, as the system operator, with important back-up and reserve services.

The Government has been advised by EirGrid and the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, that over the lifetime of the project, these benefits will more than outweigh the development costs. In a strong endorsement by the European Union, Ireland has secured €110 million for the east-west interconnector under the European economic recovery plan. This funding will be an important component of the overall financial package. In making cost comparisons, it should be borne in mind that each electricity interconnector project is a unique development. Interconnectors throughout Europe and elsewhere vary in terms of capacity, length, diversity of terrain and the proportion of the project that is below sea or on land.

The contract for the development of the east-west interconnector was awarded on foot of an open tender process conducted by EirGrid under the regulatory oversight of the CER. Both EirGrid and the CER have advised that the contract price negotiated with the successful bidder represents full value for money in a very competitive process. I am satisfied, on the basis of the comprehensive advice by EirGrid and CER to me and to my Department, that the contract is economically advantageous and that EirGrid is on schedule to deliver the east-west interconnector by 2012.

I agree with the building of an east-west interconnector and one of the scale proposed is necessary. My only question relates to whether we are paying too much for it. I met representatives of the CER and put that question to them. I also requested that they forward to me details relating to the other companies which submitted tenders in respect of this matter. However, I have not yet received such information.

I have been contacted by a number of independent people who are not linked with companies such as Imera and others and who put very convincing arguments to me to the effect that we are paying approximately one third or one quarter above what we should be paying for this item of infrastructure. I welcome the fact the European Commission will probably provide €100 million of the €600 million required for the project. However, that does not excuse the fact that we may be paying too much. We should not be obliged to pay €600 million for a project which should only cost €400 million or €500 million.

The Minister correctly stated that every project is different. However, if one compares this project to others of similar scale and size, one will not find another project that is more expensive. One can list four or five projects that were 25% less expensive than that relating to the east-west interconnector. The Minister has a responsibility in this regard because consumers and businesses, not EirGrid, will be obliged to pay for this project. EirGrid will merely manage the project and facilitate the transfer of money from those who use the interconnector and benefit from it to those who build it.

Has the Minister considered the tendering project? Did he examine the other tenders that were received? What were the prices relating to these tenders and which companies submitted them? Apart from simply taking the word of those who represent the CER and EirGrid, is he satisfied that we are not being overcharged in respect of this project?

The first point is that it is a hard market in which to buy cables because demand is outstripping supply. In view of the small number of companies producing the relevant technology and the demand therefor, it is extremely difficult to obtain even a booking with a factory to have a cable produced. Transbay Cable in California would have charged $500 million to produce a cable that would have been shorter and would have yielded less power than that which we are developing. There are other examples but the circumstances relating to each is different and is dependent on geography and grid connection upgrades.

The Transbay Cable option would have been cheaper.

Yes, but the cable would have been shorter and less powerful. This provides some form of benchmark.

We are satisfied that the contract and tendering process was proper and above board. The crucial assessment comes down to what will be the benefits. EirGrid, separate to any of the international companies, carried out such an assessment.

That is not the point.

It is the point.

It is not the point.

There will be a benefit of some €66 million to the electricity market in this country per annum.

I agree with that.

This means the net benefit of the project to the consumer and the electricity market will be extremely positive.

We needed the Luas as well but that also cost too much to build.

It is difficult to determine what represents the right price. We engaged in a tendering process involving three major, world-renowned companies. Only one of those companies could be successful. I acknowledge it is a seller's rather than a buyer's market. However, we obtained a competitive bid which stands up to international comparison. The benefits to the consumer and the electricity market of this project will far outweigh the costs.

Electric Vehicle Programme.

Thomas P. Broughan


7 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will fully report on the electric car programme; the person who has been appointed to the electric car advisory forum; the grounds on which his or her appointment was made; his estimate of when the network of charging points and related infrastructure necessary for a nationwide roll-out of electric cars will be built; if he is liaising with the ESB on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21277/09]

Seán Barrett


8 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress that has been made on securing a further memorandum of understanding with electric car manufacturers following the agreement with companies (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24100/09]

Richard Bruton


22 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the timeframe and structure for the rolling out of a charging infrastructure for electric cars agreed with the ESB; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24105/09]

I propose to answer Question Nos. 7, 8 and 22 together.

In conjunction with the Minister for Transport, I have announced plans for the large-scale deployment of electric vehicles in Ireland. The target of 10% of all vehicles to be powered by electricity by 2020 will equate to 250,000 cars on Irish roads.

The interdeparmental-interagency task force is chaired by my Department and comprises representatives from the Departments of Transport, Finance, the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, the ESB, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland. The membership of the task force was chosen to ensure a fully cohesive approach across Departments and agencies in the context of planning the development of electric transportation infrastructure. ESB Networks has a pivotal role to play in this process. While I consider the membership of the task force to be appropriate at this stage, I will keep under review the need to co-opt other expertise as matters progress.

The task force is developing the options and timeframe for putting in place the necessary infrastructure and other arrangements for the national roll-out of electric vehicles. Initial estimates for the roll-out of infrastructure indicate it will take between 12 and 18 months, depending on the scale of initial deployment. Global developments will be factored in as the technologies mature. The task force will shortly report its initial findings and advise on the next steps. Three working groups have been established under the aegis of the task force. These are the transport infrastructure, fiscal and enterprise groups. The work of these groups will inform the task force's main report. Employment opportunities, the costs involved in providing car-charging infrastructure and all associated issues, including funding options, will be addressed in the report.

The memorandum of understanding I recently concluded with Renault-Nissan will greatly increase the level of knowledge available on the infrastructure requirements of electric vehicles and ensure that Ireland has the opportunity to be one of the first countries to be supplied with both Renault and Nissan electric cars. This represents a major opportunity for Ireland. Under the memorandum of understanding, ESB Networks will be able to avail of data on developments in electric vehicles which will inform our consideration of optimum infrastructure, support mechanisms and the potential benefits accruing.

The memorandum of understanding does not convey any exclusive rights in respect of the provision of electric cars. Ireland is open for business to all manufacturers of electric vehicles and I hope to build relationships with all global players in the sector. I also hope to develop relationships with the ICT companies that will provide the data management and communications infrastructure that will be required.

I thank the Minister for his reply but I must state he did not tell us a huge amount. When his Department issued a press release in respect of this matter, we were informed that a working group was to be established. I do not mean to nit-pick but this has metamorphosed into a task force to which three working groups are attached. That is a matter of concern because it appears there will be much deliberation but not many results. The press release issued by the Minister promised that the electric vehicles working group would publish its report in April but this clearly did not happen. When will that report be published?

The Minister did not indicate whether industry representatives are included in the membership of the task force. He stated the initial roll out will take between 12 to 18 months. What does this mean? How will the strategy relating to this matter actually work? A target of 10% has been set and a task force has been established. However, the nature of the strategy is unclear. What legislative requirements will be necessary to ensure the target is achieved?

In recent days it emerged that there is a real danger of electricity blackouts in Dublin as a result of insufficient capacity. Has the Minister, in conjunction with the ESB, given consideration to this matter in the context of the additional capacity that would be required to meet the target he has set in respect of the roll-out of electric vehicles?

I do not have an exact date for the publication of the report. However, it will be issued shortly. I will provide the Deputy with a broad outline of what we envisage will happen over the first two years of the strategy. The first point to make is that the strategy is dependent on the availability of suitable vehicles. Nothing can be done until such vehicles become available. From listening to the companies, several hundred vehicles will become available by the end of next year. It will probably start towards the latter part of next year. By 2011 the figure should be around a couple of thousand as the scheme ramps up, depending on the level of vehicle availability from the manufacturers.

That will require roughly 1,500 power charging points, probably starting in the cities, concentrating in Dublin and the larger urban centres first, then rolling it out around the country. That presupposes the ability of any householder to have a simple plug-in connection so that he or she may charge from home. There will be widespread availability of charging facilities on a domestic basis, but we shall need to back that up in apartment blocks, car parks and on-street facilities as well as with a number of super charging points where within half an hour one might get an 80% charge, that will enable one, say, to get from Dublin to Cork. We shall need those at mid-points between our cities as the system evolves in the first year or two.

That is the first crucial development, having a countrywide, particularly urban, structure of power in place as well as the vehicles available from the manufacturers. In this regard we have the advantage, and now we know we have it. I mentioned that the whole ICT digital service area is behind this because we shall need fairly complex software. It needs to be an open access system in terms of being available for any vehicle manufacturer and as such is not exclusive. Also, down the line it will be supplier neutral in terms of the fact that different electricity supply companies will be able to sell through it — and that requires a good complex smart grid system.

Those are the bones of what I see happening in the next two years and what we learn and gain from that initiative we shall deploy very widely. There has been continuous questioning regarding the Dublin grid in terms of the volume of power supply being used in the city. However, there has been very significant investment in both the transmission and distribution network in Dublin and this is ongoing. The ESB is raising and spending significant capital on its network and other generation facilities. I am confident its involvement in this project is central to provide a co-ordinated response.

I thank the Minister, in particular, for his second response to the effect that we are certain to get more detail in respect of the electric car project. My view is that we need to take a field of dreams philosophy here, of "build it and they'll come" because people will not buy into electric cars until they see that this is a major State project for Ireland. We are transforming our transport fleet from carbon-based fuels to electricity. We have the capacity to do this in a dramatic way if the Minister is aggressively pushing this project. However, it will not be helpful if we take a cautious approach towards putting charging points in place between now and the end of 2011 of up to even 1,500. This is something that needs to be rolled out in a more ambitious manner and I encourage the Minister to be ambitious in that regard. I have a number of questions.

Are we seeking memorandums of understanding with other car manufacturers? I know that manufacturers other than Nissan-Renault are seeking to actively pursue the electric car market as well and we should ensure that consumers in Ireland will have choice. Are we seeking further memorandums of understanding in terms of charging points outside the ESB network? Again, that needs to be very much open to a tendering process and the benefits of competition.

Finally, are we consulting with the Northern Ireland Assembly about sharing this project to make it an all-island initiative? There are clear reasons why we should be doing that, in terms of developing the same type of transport system on the island of Ireland. The advantage of our being an island is that our cars primarily stay in Ireland, unlike many other European countries, which makes it easier for us to transform our transport fleet within a relatively short period of time, as long as we can get the cars.

We are seeking memorandums of understanding with other manufacturers because crucially, car availability is the constraint. I fully agree with the Deputy. We should be ambitious in this regard and ahead of the curve as a country. In a sense we should be ahead of the people in providing facilities for them because I believe this will be enormously positive for the country.

We are also looking at memorandums of understanding with other supply system companies, in whatever format, while recognising crucially that in any supply system there has to be open access. It has to be something that different operators can switch in and out of.

I have to check the relationship the working group has with Northern Ireland. I believe we are ahead of the UK in this, in terms of what is being done there, but there is no reason why Northern Ireland and the Republic cannot synergise on this because of the obvious benefits to be derived from an all-island common approach, and I will support that.

This has to be something that also makes sense, economically. We will do whatever we can, in Government, to assist. We have already introduced tax breaks for fleet purchasers — advance capital allowances for anyone purchasing electric vehicles. We have given significant VRT and tax allowances for electric vehicles and people must have real security as regards those measures. There is a range of different measures we can employ in Government, but the Deputies can have my absolute commitment that it makes sense for us, not just on the transport side, but in terms of the back-up benefits that will accrue regarding the development of a smart grid, and as a location where some of the ICT technologies can progress — as well as for service solutions which can then be sold elsewhere.

Telecommunications Services.

Brian O'Shea


9 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the outside organisations working on the national broadband scheme; the amount that has been paid out to them since the start of the scheme; the reports and advice they have given; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24081/09]

Róisín Shortall


43 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of people and the amount of resources that are allocated to working full-time on the national broadband scheme and their duties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24080/09]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 43 together.

My Department entered into a contract with "3", a Hutchison Whampoa company, for the delivery of the national broadband scheme, NBS, in December 2008. Within my Department, the implementation of the NBS is being overseen at senior management level by full-time civil servants at the grades of assistant secretary and principal officer. Responsibility for day-to-day project management and administration of the NBS rests with a team comprising of an assistant principal officer, a higher executive officer and a clerical officer. Additional specialist technical and legal resources are available to the project from within my Department, when required. The contract places onerous requirements on "3" in respect of programme delivery and compliance with technical and service level requirements. These are important features to ensure best return for the overall Exchequer investment in the scheme of €79.8 million. In these circumstances, it is necessary that the Department should have specialist outside assistance.

Accordingly, Analysys Mason Limited was engaged by my Department in January 2009 for a 28 month period to provide technical, financial and commercial advice, along with support to my officials in relation to project management and monitoring of the rollout and implementation of the NBS. As the network is rolled out and services are delivered in the NBS coverage area, Analysys Mason will assist in validating coverage achieved in individual electoral divisions and in monitoring the performance of the infrastructure, service availability, service delivery and quality, customer experience as well as overall compliance by "3" with contractual obligations.

To date, Analysys Mason Limited has provided ongoing advice in relation to a range of matters, including the establishment of project governance structures and reporting systems to underpin clear and effective monitoring of the roll-out of the NBS and performance delivery by "3". In addition, it has elaborated on processes within the NBS contract to verify broadband coverage and to validate service delivery and quality as well as the achievement of contractual obligations.

My Department also has available an individual resource with relevant ICT expertise who provides day-to-day administrative support in relation to NBS project management and implementation. Since the signature of the NBS contract, an amount of €67,845, excluding VAT, has been paid in respect of the advisory services outlined above.

Was it always envisage that this consultant would be included in the actual management of the scheme? Was this incorporated into it from the very beginning? I am not quibbling, but I wonder whether this was incorporated into the scheme. There is a real danger that if we have to get expertise we have to go outside the Department for various reasons in terms of staff numbers being reduced.

In terms of the management of the contract, was it always the intention to employ outside consultants?

I would have to check the stage at which that was included but I imagine it is because it is fairly standard procedure in some of our other similar projects. For example, the MANS always had a technical advisory component as it was being implemented as well as at the concept stage. On similar projects there is always that technical outside assessment of whether it is being delivered.

What budget is allowed over the 28 months? The Minister has indicated the money that has already been spent on this consultancy but what will the total amount be between now and the final period? When will the broadband scheme be completed?

It is to be rolled out in September 2010.

So it is 28 months to the full completion. Could the Minister give me a figure on how much the consultancy will cost? Has the Minister examined planning applications and permissions to see if there is any danger of delays? I am concerned about the old chestnut of mobile broadband where a rural business comes under this scheme but there are complaints about the efficiency of mobile broadband. What are the Minister's intentions about meeting the needs of the 20,000 households that will still be outside the scheme when it is completed?

The Minister probably saw the Economist Intelligence Unit's annual ranking of e-readiness and I note that Ireland has improved somewhat, essentially because of the recession. However, when one examines the detail of the analysis it appears the Government has held us back in terms of a lack of strategic approach whereas business appears to be more e-ready than we are here.

The 28-month tendered bid was for a total of €399,000 and for the various stages of that right through to the end of the scheme. The Minister asked whether we can be certain there will be no planning delays. One cannot be certain. This is a very complex project which covers the entire country. Masts have to be put up involving very significant, complex backhaul works involving new technology. No doubt there will be difficulties on the route to delivering it but Hutchison 3G is very confident and there are conditions set in the contract that it will meet the targets, the 48% of areas being covered by December this year and full coverage being rolled out at the end of September 2010. Part of the task in my Department and with the consultants we have working is to keep a continuous eye on that and ensure difficulties are overcome and targets are met.

The technology is working in the areas where it has been rolled out, initially tentatively in a small number of areas. In the technical analysis of the speeds in the areas, the contention is that this technology is working. It is leading edge in terms of mobile broadband technology but it is proving to be very robust. Some of the innovations and technologies within it, such as the receiver one would have in one's home to pick up the signal and apply it in the home, are proving very robust. The latest technology is being deployed, it is working and our key attention within the Department and with our consultants is to ensure it is deployed effectively across the country.

We are examining ways we can get to those remaining customers who for a number of different reasons are in areas which do not come under either the national broadband scheme or alternative coverage and how we can plug that gap. I welcome and appreciate Deputy McManus's comments on the improvement in e-readiness around the country. The Deputy is correct that the Government must work further on this. I am very confident that the work being done by CMOD in developing the Government's use of broadband technologies and improving our services will bring us further up the international table.

This is the first time I have heard the Minister concede that a number of people will be outside the national broadband scheme who cannot get broadband connectivity, which intrigues me. Can he tell us how many people, households and small businesses are in that bracket and if there is a concession that this is the case? The figure given to us in committee by the Irish Rural Link——

It got that figure from the Department.

——which it got from the Department was approximately 20,000. Can the Minister give us an idea who those people are and why they are not covered by the national broadband scheme, which was supposed to be an effort at universal coverage across the country?

A couple of years ago in my old house in Ranelagh I could not get broadband because of a paired split on the DSL line. I eventually got it by putting a fixed wire connection to a distant point. There is a range of different reasons. Largely the areas are where electoral districts had the vast majority of homes covered by existing subscribers, and under European competition rules we were precluded from going in. This is an area where one had 5% or 10% of the electoral district, which is the lowest level we can come down to. That was an insufficient number to allow us to go in under competition rules. I am working from memory but I understand the number is in the order of 12,000 homes but I could be wrong. We are examining ways we can plug that last gap.

The Minister should look after Valentia Island.

Electricity Metering.

Joe Costello


10 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress made in the trial phase scheme for smart electronic meters; the number of houses it will cover; when it will be completed; the cost of this scheme; the capabilities of the smart meters to be used; if Bord Gáis electricity customers will be included in this project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24051/09]

Leo Varadkar


38 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress being made on the roll-out of net meters; the numbers involved; the cost and the timescale agreed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24109/09]

I propose to take Question Nos. 10 and 38 together.

The roll-out of the national smart metering programme is progressing in line with the commitment in the Government's energy policy framework and in the programme for Government. The smart metering programme is a central component of the strategy to radically enhance management of energy demand and to deliver greater energy efficiency through the use of cutting-edge technology.

This is a highly complex technology project. The trials are essential to ensure the optimum and most cost-effective technology and systems are identified for the implementation phase. The electricity element of the pilot phase is expected to be completed at the end of December 2010. It is important to have a trial that captures seasonal changes in usage for peak demand management purposes. The outcome should be a fully informed decision on the most suitable model of smart meter-IT system, tariffing structure, communications system and demand stimuli. The model must have the proven capability to deliver the anticipated benefits of smart metering, taking account of the specifics of the Irish energy system.

The pilot phase encompasses two strands. The technology trial is testing a number of advanced metering systems and their associated IT and communications infrastructure. The customer behaviour trial will determine the potential of smart meters to achieve measurable change in consumer behaviour. The technology trial will examine metering functionality and supporting information and communications systems. This trial will involve the installation of up to 8,000 meters. Installation of the first 2,000 meters for technology testing is due to begin next month.

The 6,000 participants for the customer behaviour trial have been selected to ensure the sample is representative of Ireland's electricity consumers both in terms of usage profiles and geographical spread. Installation of meters for this trial is almost complete with 5,364 residential and 595 SME meters installed at 8 June.

Given the advanced stage of work under way to put in place the systems needed for the pilot, it will not be possible to include the new residential BGE electricity customers in the customer behaviour trial. BGE is involved in the SME element of the trial and will be able to avail of the findings of the residential electricity customer behaviour trial. The specifications of these metering systems will allow the testing of a range of functions to deliver enhanced demand management. These include interval metering reading, time of use tariffing and the use of in-home display devices. They will also provide reliable quality data on actual energy use which will lead to significantly better services to consumers. These include improved fault monitoring and outage recording, power quality monitoring, reduced theft and losses and improved network planning.

The gas element of the smart metering programme is also moving ahead. Over 1,900 customers are expected to participate in gas customer behaviour trials. A further 750 meters will be installed to facilitate the gas technology trials. Customers for the gas customer behaviour trial will be recruited by the end of July 2009. The trial period will begin in June 2010 and will continue until May 2011.

The estimated cost of the pilot is €34.9 million. This comprises €29.9 million for the electricity element and €5 million for the gas element. The cost of a national roll-out will be determined on foot of the results of the pilot programme and decisions taken on the optimum type of cost effective smart metering system that will deliver the level of functionality required in an Irish market.

A key component of the pilot phase is the associated cost-benefit analysis which is under way and which will critically inform future decisions. An interim analysis will be completed next year with the final analysis, to include the results of the gas trials, to be completed by mid-2011.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. The Minister's original commitment made in November 2007 was for 25,000 homes with an estimated cost of €10 million and the first meters to be installed in the second quarter of 2008. It seems the information the Minister is now giving us is rather different from that plan set out in 2007. Why was there such a difference between the two?

The national roll-out was indicated in previous press releases as being over five years. It is a pretty costly business and one of the questions I have been asked to ask the Minister is who pays. Obviously ultimately the customer pays for services provided. How will that be structured for individuals with smart meters? While I appreciate this is at the experimental stage, I do not want that as an answer. There needs to be some specification or brief as to what this will do. There is a genuine concern that the ultimate beneficiary of smart metering will be the provider rather than the consumer. How does the Minister envisage the benefits being spread between the provider and the consumer?

It seems quite tough on the people who took the advice of availing of the competition in the market, over which the Minister is very proud to have presided, and moved to An Bord Gáis or Airtricity. It seems they are now blocked from being involved in the smart meter programme. Why is that the case? I had understood that even if a consumer moved to another provider the meter still belonged to the ESB.

In response to the question as to who pays and who benefits, the Deputy is correct that the supply companies will benefit and it is designed to do that. The first benefit is that there is less theft. With more control over where electricity is going and real-time information as to what is happening, the experience internationally has been real savings, which may be single-digit but are still significant in reducing theft. The provider also achieves savings from the cost of managing that system. It is right that the supply companies should benefit.

The consumer, however, also benefits. One of the reasons it is more expensive is that we are taking more time but it is being done in the correct way to get it right. As well as the technology and the companies' systems we are really testing how people react and use the technology. That is probably the most important factor for the pilot's success or otherwise. If through better monitors or display systems consumers can see what they are using and can start to make savings, then they start to win. With systems that can switch off appliances automatically and which have control systems allowing consumers to have much greater control over what they are doing, consumers start to win. The ultimate objective is to reduce the energy use in homes. All the international evidence suggests consumers can do that with proper measurement when they know what is going on.

The companies and the consumers will benefit. While it is expensive and there are costs involved in the set-up and trial period, I am convinced it is the right way to go. Every other advanced economy is planning to implement this. The benefit for us in developing a smart grid system here, starting from the smart meter and including the electric vehicle in the driveway that can be plugged into a socket in the hallway, is that this is an area where considerable international attention and investment is coming. Many jobs can be developed out of the systems here.

What about the Bord Gáis consumers?

I need to check on that matter and revert to the Deputy. Obviously, Bord Gáis's entry into the market occurred at a late stage when we were very advanced in this trial system. I would need to check what happens when a consumer swaps. This is a meter being installed by the ESB and it is part of its distribution grid system. That is not to say the information and all the other aspects of it will not be fully available to all other companies.

On the last point, the ESB distribution system is an entirely separate operation from ESB Power Generation. I presume consumers switching to Bord Gáis, Airtricity or any other new electricity supplier should still keep the system that was put in place just as they will keep their wires. It would be farcical if people could not switch electricity supplier for fear of using their energy monitoring system in their homes. If that were the case the ESB would have a complete stranglehold on the market unless other companies were to provide similar information systems, which is essentially the kind of smart metering system the Minister envisages.

The Minister has not answered the question as to why we have gone from having a supposed pilot project of 25,000 smart meters, which should have begun their roll-out in the middle of last year, to now limiting our ambition to 8,000. Why is that the case? Is the Minister not concerned that the pilot project will only conclude — if all goes well between now and the end of it — by the end of 2010 and then the review period will continue into 2011? It will be mid to late 2011 before we make decisions on whether to roll out a national programme of smart meters. That is two to three years away. In the meantime, we are trying to create a smart grid that can facilitate electric cars, micro-generation whereby people sell back to the grid excess power they produce in the home through solar panels, small wind turbines or other systems they might be using. I am concerned that in an effort to get this right we will take an ultra-cautious approach and will drag our feet for the next two to three years analysing a project that I believe we all know will be a success.

Should the ultimate goal not be to have in every house in the country a net meter, which measures electricity, gas and water so that we have a utilities smart meter?

I need to call the Minister.

I suspect we will get towards that ideal but we will have wasted all this time on the planning project for electricity alone.

The number of houses to participate in this test phase is close to 17,000. Originally it was 21,000. The detailed calculation was done and it was seen that we could deliver the analysis we needed on that basis. It is not a question of whether we are going to do this but how we can best do it. It is a programme for Government commitment and it makes sense. As with anything in the energy area or other areas it is right to test for the best technology, get the real human interaction — the behavioural use — right, and then deploy. After that period at the end of next year I do not envisage great agonising as to whether we will proceed. It will be a question of putting into effect the lessons we have learnt from the test scheme in order to facilitate micro-generation and to facilitate not just electricity metering but also gas and other services going into the home. That is what we are doing in the trial test period. We are carrying out the most advanced, integrated, complex metering possible because we believe that will benefit the Irish householder into future years.

What about the Bord Gáis customer?

The Bord Gáis customer is treated in exactly the same way as the ESB customer. The ESB makes the switch on the basis of a phone call. The software allows all the billing and other information to go to Bord Gáis.

I happen to be a Bord Gáis customer. The Minister sent an e-mail — I presume Deputy Coveney received the same e-mail — suggesting that I become part of the pilot scheme. A Bord Gáis customer cannot avail of the offer. I am not bothered for myself but by the idea that there is a limitation because someone chooses to take their electricity from a source other than the ESB. As Deputy Coveney said, the two things are separate and should always be so.

In respect of the Deputy's circumstances, I put that invitation to Members because I thought it was important for us to see how such systems work if we are to legislate and make decisions about the use of such metres.

The Minister is aware of the problem.

I will certainly examine it. I will respond to the Deputy's case.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.