Consumers and the Smart Grid

The advantages and disadvantages of the smart grid system

Rolling out the smart grid should help keep the lights on in Britain, reducing the threat of blackouts while hopefully providing value for money for the consumers.

Aside from helping the country transition to a low carbon energy industry, it will also benefit consumers through a variety of means that we look at in detail below. Obviously rolling out the smart grid also raises a few areas of contention for consumers and we also look at these.

Advantages of The Smart Grid to The Customer

Empowering the Consumer

The smart grid will give the consumer the power to save money, however this is very much dependant on the consumer acting on the information available to them. For example, one of the potential benefits of the smart grid is the time of usage tariff (TOUT), which will charge customers less for using electricity at off-peak times and more at peak times (like a much more accurate Economy 7 tariff).

Obviously, while this has the potential to allow the consumer to change their energy usage habits to ensure they pay less for on their bills, it also means that they may be charged more if they use electricity during peak times. This ties in with Real-time electricity consumption (see below).

Real-time electricity consumption

Perhaps the main advantage that the smart grid will offer the consumer is an increased responsibility over their electrical usage. Real-time consumption will display up to the minute information on how much electricity is being used and at what price.

The End of Estimated Bills

The smart grid allows the energy companies to see energy usage from individual houses in real time if they so require, so they should be able to bill exactly the right amount each month. No more overpaying during the summer and getting whacked with sudden additional payments when they finally get actual energy usage details from the meter.

Electrical reliability/Swifter power outage detection

Due to the increase of data available within the smart grid, power outages, or blackouts, can be predicted and sometimes even prevented altogether. The self-healing capabilities of the grid allow problems to quickly be fixed, potentially even before customers are even aware of the issue. This obviously creates a more reliable electricity network that should mean power failures become a thing of the past.

Lower Carbon Footprint

The smart grid, through initiatives like the time of usage tariff, should help lower peak energy demand, which means that less generating capacity will be needed, so this should result in lower carbon emissions since fewer old fossil fuel electricity generators are required to be switched on.

The improved integration of renewables inside the grid also helps minimise carbon emission within the UK’s electrical generation mix.

Remotely monitored usage

The introduction of the smart meter within the smart grid system means that utility companies no longer have to pay the high admin fees involved with checking meter readings. This is because information is passed from the home’s smart meter, along the 2-way dialog communications system and into the smart grid’s database. The removal of these admin fees mean that the savings the companies make may be passed onto the consumer to a certain extent.

Renewables integration

At present, the national grid is not suited to high levels of electricity being produced by renewable energy sources. The reason for this is the complexity in balancing supply and demand, which was hard enough when they could predict when power stations were going to be off and online.

Think about the added complexity that 1 million homes having solar PV have added to our energy mix. We now have millions of micro power stations that are all producing unpredictable amounts of energy.

The introduction of the smart grid allows the increased integration of renewables energy in to our energy mix. This will reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels, relieving us from these volatile markets. Not only will it save the consumer money, but also lower the carbon footprint of the grid and therefore consumers are safe in the knowledge that the electricity that they use is as green as can be and that it is being produced here in the UK, with no need to import fuels.

Click on page 2 below to see the potential disadvantages for the consumer resulting from the implementation of the smart grid.

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