The government is planning to spend up to £4.58 billion on building three wide area networks to link to smart meters in 30 million UK homes and businesses.

The utility companies - which are currently in the process of putting up their prices for gas and electricity - have previously said that any adoption of widespread smart metering would need government cash to enable it.

The government, which has detailed some of its plans in contract notices, said it plans to build three regional smart metering WANs to carry the data - worth up to £1.53 billion each. The tenders were placed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

The three areas, going as separate lots, are: northern Great Britain including Scotland, central Great Britain including Wales, and southern England.

The governmant has also put out two tender documents for the supply of smart meter data services - worth up to £240 million in total. A "central data and communications company" will be created to collect data gleaned from the three planned WANs.

The government has long said that smart metering is a vital initiative in modernising the UK. The rollout is aimed at helping customers to control their usage by providing detailed real time information on what their consumption is costing. It is also seen as an important step towards smart grids, which will target better management of demand..

But such a large layout of cash may nevertheless prove controversial. In June, the National Audit Office said that the rollout, set to cost £11.3 billion in total, faces “major risks” on value for money, because there was “uncertainty” about “the extent to which smart meters will result in changed energy use by consumers over a sustained period” as well as concerns that the government has not yet developed a benefits realisation plan.