The end of RTS is coming – are suppliers ready?

In 1987, the BBC won a Queen’s Award for technology for the Radio Teleswitch System (RTS), which has supported electricity demand management for over 40 years. At the time, this was groundbreaking technology that embedded digital data into a radio signal without interfering with the transmitted programme. The BBC embedded electricity switching data into its longwave radio four transmissions which Radio Teleswitches could receive and decode, and a generation of Economy 7 tariffs were born. Forty years later, longwave radio is old hat; digital platforms have taken over, and the BBC will stop its longwave transmissions, and with that comes the end of RTS. 

Longwave Radio transmission is likely to end at some point in 2025. After a long, trusted and largely reliable service, the BBC will have moved all its programmes previously transmitted over Longwave onto more modern digital/online media platforms. Stalwart listeners of Aggers and Boycott on Test Match Special and those enjoying the calming voice of Alan Bennett reading the Shipping Forecast will now enjoy the same pleasures, albeit using newer technology than the old ‘transistor radio’ perched in the corner of the room. But what does that mean for the circa 900,000 electrically heated households that are still reliant on the RTS systems to support their off-peak tariffs that give cheaper, off-peak electricity needed to enable affordable heating and hot-water provision in their homes and businesses across the nation?    

Smart meters (love them or hate them) are the only gig in town when it comes to a replacement for the RTS. With the essential smart electricity meter variants needed to replace aging RTS equipment now readily available in the supply-chain, the focus for electricity suppliers is to simply ‘get on with it’ and install new smart meters in all affected homes and businesses before the RTS service to consumers ends on 30th June 2025.   

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just homes in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland that rely on RTS. The spread of homes and businesses making use of RTS metering equipment is remarkably even across all of our home nations, thanks to the highly addictive (and very amusing) 1980s’ Creature Comfort’ TV ads promoting Electric Storage Heating as the go-to solution of the time – Nick Park’s animation wizardry being one of the most memorable TV ad campaigns ever for many folks my age (who wouldn’t love and have a fond memory of a turtle wearing a sweatband on his head saying that his heating needs to be easily turn off and on-able?).  

This even spread, stretching from the Shetland & Orkney Isles to all four corners of the UK, coupled with the more recent challenges associated with energy affordability and the ever-present conundrum of consumer take-up of smart meters make the RTS switch-off even more challenging. Not only will electricity suppliers need to successfully persuade all affected customers to accept the offer of a smart meter, but they will also need to make sure their smart-enabled product offerings are attractive and offer genuinely affordable alternatives to the ancient multi-rate tariffs such as Total Heat Total Control, Heatwise and the like. However, as yet, the promise of real Time of Use tariffs (touted as one of the key benefits of the GB’s smart meter rollout) has yet to bear any meaningful fruit from the traditional ex-PES electricity suppliers.  

Thankfully, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, and all electricity suppliers have dedicated RTS replacement programmes in place. The beady eyes of the Energy Minister and Regulator are firmly focused on RTS replacement progress thanks to bulging post-bags from MPs and MSPs concerned about their constituents’ welfare. However, there are still some tricky hurdles to overcome on the journey.   

In its open Letter issued on 19th January, Ofgem gives a(nother) stark warning to electricity suppliers of the need to ensure all RTS equipment is replaced with smart meter equivalents before the RTS arrangements end. Ofgem has made its expectations clear – suppliers must have plans in place to replace all RTS equipment some 3-4 months ahead of the RTS switch-off, with Ofgem likely to be breathing down suppliers’ necks checking on their progress over the next 12 months or so. The pressure is clearly on electricity suppliers now.   


Smart meter connectivity won’t reach every home 

DESNZ suggests there are circa 400,000 homes currently indicated as having no smart meter Wide Area Network connectivity (based on the Smart DCC’s WAN coverage database data). Add to that the thousands of premises where coverage isn’t as expected (or promised) once the supplier’s smart installer arrives onsite.  

Thankfully, the recent Government consultation seeking views on a solution that would enable connectivity into the DCC using the consumer’s internet/broadband connection should address circa 95% of the current No-WAN properties (and hopefully even more of those premises where smart installers aren’t able to connect to the WAN). We need to see a collective effort from Energy Suppliers, the DCC and technology providers to get this new means of connectivity over the line as quickly as possible – and hopefully well ahead of the RTS switch-off date.  

Another factor here is the arrival of the new 4G cellular network later in 2025 – the ‘G’ upgrade for the current Central and South smart regions. But what if 4G could deliver connectivity to a smart meter in the North region where Long Range Radio can’t? As it currently stands, energy suppliers aren’t allowed to install a cellular comms hub if the property sits in the North region. Undoubtedly, the most important outcome here is to provide every consumer with a fully connected smart meter. Removing the current comms’ technology borders’ and allowing connectivity to be made, regardless of which comms technology can connect, is the only sensible outcome. Let’s hope this is the sensible outcome of the DCC’s Smart Meter Connectivity Strategy, which they’re just kicking off.   


Consumer take-up for smart is essential

Despite the retail energy industry spending £ m’s on campaigns to encourage consumer take-up for smart meters, the stark reality is that the low-hanging fruit has all been picked. How energy suppliers persuade the remaining 41% of the population (based on the government’s Q3 2023 smart meter statistics) to accept the offer of a smart meter is a million-dollar question that no one appears to be able to answer. In the future, however, we will see a new approach for RTS replacements – with a strong and focused message that if those consumers with RTS equipment in their homes and businesses don’t take up the smart meter offer, then their ongoing heating and hot-water provision will be disrupted. It’s not an easy message to convey.  

Furthermore, if consumers are not willing to accept a smart meter as a replacement for their RTS equipment (the only gig in town), then the only real option for electricity suppliers will be to provide consumers with a smart meter that isn’t connected to the smart infrastructure, with pre-programmed peak/off-peak switching times built in. It is not a smart option and not a great experience for the consumer – but on the basis that smart meter technology is the natural RTS replacement technology, the costs of developing and implementing a different, non-smart RTS option would not be a sensible or cost-effective investment for suppliers to be making.  

There will, of course, be some consumers who won’t accept either of the smart connected/non-connected options or don’t respond to their electricity supplier’s pleas to let them upgrade to smart. Once the RTS arrangements stop on 30th June 2025, there is no confidence in how the old RTS equipment will react. It’s highly likely that most of the equipment out there will no longer switch off-peak circuitry on – which ultimately means no heating or hot water. And if this happens during the winter, then this isn’t a good outcome for consumers and certainly not a good news story for the energy industry – regardless of the efforts suppliers will have made to get the job done.  


With RTS sites spread far and wide, replacing them all in time could be a logistical nightmare

Most suppliers recognise the challenges of trying to plan for the replacement of RTS metering equipment, particularly when considering the wide-spread geographies and number of suppliers involved. The pre-conception that all consumers reliant on RTS are still with their Ex-PES supplier went out of the window many years ago.  

The more innovative challenger suppliers have been highly successful in tempting customers away – Octopus Energy (when factoring in the Bulb and Shell Energy MPIDs) have more MPANs with RTS equipment than any other supplier – and there are over 15 supply businesses with 2,500 or more RTS customers on their books.  

But with DESNZ’s renewed effort to get suppliers to share meter installation resources and a willing number of third-party MEMs keen for a slice of the collective RTS replacement pie, there are still plenty of options to get the job done ahead of the RTS end date. 


What can be done for the more rural and remote regions?  

However, the elephant in the room is the ever-challenging logistical challenges associated with some of the more rural locations of some with RTS sites. With few or no dedicated metering resources based full-time in locations such as the Shetlands, Orkney, or the Western Isles of Scotland, it’s no surprise that these are some of the lowest areas of smart meter penetration across the UK – and it’s not hard to understand that consumers here really need their smart meter upgrades.  

Whilst DESNZ is trying to encourage energy suppliers and MEMs to have ‘roaming workforces’ parachuted into areas to meet customer demand for smart, will this be enough for RTS? Is a complete rethink required for locations like this? Will anyone be able to persuade the local DNO’s to help out? Is this a great opportunity to replicate the Derby Local Pilot with very localised outreach to create demand, then a pooling of all available resources to get smart meters installed en-mass? What is clear is that more ‘out of the box’ thinking is needed for situations like this to stand any chance of getting all RTS equipment replaced before the summer of 2025 – but who leads this?   

What next, then?

With Europe’s “The Final Countdown” blasting in the background (and apologies, I know this song will be playing in the back of your head for the rest of the day now – but I couldn’t resist), the pressure is genuinely on.  

  • RTS replacement activity needs to ramp up quickly – electricity suppliers need to step up their game and use whatever installation resource options are out there to get the job done; 
  • We need a strong push from every stakeholder to encourage consumers to act and get their smart meter upgrade – and this needs to be coordinated with Smart Energy GB leading the charge and strong support from consumer representatives such as Citizens Advice, Consumer Scotland, National Energy Action, Local Authorities and Housing Associations;  
  • Make sure we can connect as many properties to the smart network as quickly as possible – so getting the broadband option and removing the current ‘technology borders’ has to be a big DESNZ priority, especially if legislative or DCC Licence changes are needed;  
  • We need to join the various Government Departments together for the good of consumers. I doubt any of the Departments focused on driving the agenda on affordable home heating solutions are even aware of the withdrawal of RTS – and they need to be part of the solution, especially for the many vulnerable households with ancient and inefficient heating systems that work alongside RTS that are clearly going to need financial assistance; and finally… 
  • It’s time for a rethink to ensure the industry as a whole can improve the customer service we offer to consumers in (what shouldn’t be) harder-to-serve locations. A big cross-industry and Government effort is needed to ensure we’re making the best use of our fantastic workforces and that consumers don’t have to wait weeks and months to get a true smart experience.   


Written by Jason Stevens, Principle Consultant

Engage Consulting are subject matter experts in the energy sector. Our industry specialist advisory and project management services enable our customers to deliver the changes they need to in order to meet their policy or commercial ambitions, within a complex and evolving energy landscape that is focused on delivering Net Zero, affordable energy to consumers.

Related News

Who We've Worked With

We have been providing services to the energy industry for over 23 years, during that time we have worked in collaboration and for a significant number of businesses and organisations.

Scroll to Top