INTRODUCTION TO SMART METERING
Around the world, investment in new energy sources has increased the complexity of the energy mix. Even 20 years ago, the majoirty of the grid was powered by fossil fuels, nuclear and hydroelectric; however nowadays solar power plants, wind turbines, increased geothermal and other forms of renewable energy have all started contributing to the electricty we use today.
Demand is also increasing; in addition to a growing population, we are also using more energy on a day to day basis. In the UK, this is also coupled with decomissioning of many of our existing nuclear power plants, which will decrease the amount of electricity we are producing. Also the new entrants onto the energy landscape such as solar PV and wind produce power intermittently, so we need a grid that is more flexible to meet these supply and demand issues.
WHAT IS A SMART METER?
The smart meter is a relatively new technology that records real time electricity and gas usage in a household or business and delivers this information back to the utility companies. This allows these utility companies to better match demand with supply, thereby making a more efficient electrical grid.
There are also benefits for individuals who install the smart meter technology as the meters provide a much more comprehensive picture of energy use within the home. This will highlight things like which appliances use high amounts of electricity (which potentially can be replaced with more energy efficient models). It can also highlight when youe home is using peak power, allowing you to adjust your behaviour and try to use less power.
The aim of the UK government is to equip every household in the UK with a smart meter by 2020. In practice this means installing 53 million meters (according to the DECC), which is no small job! The smart meter is also meant to support the micro-generating technologies such as micro CHP, solar PV and wind, which enable the consumer to generate their own energy.
HOW DO SMART METERS WORK?
As far as the technology is concerned, it works based on wirelessly transmitting data as energy is being consumed. A smart meter uses the information to keep the consumer informed and updated on their actual energy use; by having a smart meter it can give you a lot more control over when you choose to increase or decrease your energy usage. The meter has a digital reader and will make the billing a lot easier to track. The idea is that smart meters will result in lower levels of energy consumption, which means this will reduce the carbon emissions from each household.
Smart meters will mean that the consumer can become a lot more sophisticated when they consume energy. For example smart meters will display the reading during peak and non-peak times. This is useful because during off-peak times, electricity is cheaper. You can then make sure you run your washing machine during those off-peak times and change your daily habits to cut your monthly bills.
DEPLOYMENT OF SMART METERS IN THE UK
Energy giants such as British Gas have already begun the smart meter deployment and this is being followed by the other five major energy providers. Smart meters will one day mean a ‘smart-grid’. For example data of energy consumption can be shared with the consumers and the providers so that gas and electricity price plans can be tailored to individuals needs.
Although the research on countries such as the US and Sweden has shown a positive effect of smart meters – showing energy bill savings and more efficient consumption, in the UK there is an opposing view that it is too costly to roll out the smart meter infrastructure vs. the marginal benefits they could bring to the consumers.
As the energy mix becomes more complex in terms of supply and demand continues to grow, smart meters will become a powerful tool to allow utility companies to continue to supply customers with uninterrupted electrcity supply as and when it is needed.