As carbon emissions reach an all-time high, it is significant to see how smart meters are helping to reduce energy consumption, increase use of renewable energy and helping the UK achieve net-zero by 2050, writes Bhupender Singh Tuteja, MBCS.

Smart meters are a next generation meter, that contribute significantly to the transformation of the way we use energy in order to create a more flexible, decarbonised and decentralised ecosystem - in line with the UK government objective to achieve net zero by 2050.

Smart meter - lower energy bills and a smaller carbon footprint

These new meters replace traditional gas and electricity meters that give near to real-time information about energy usage in order to track and make changes through an in-house display. By showing the real-time daily and monthly cost, the consumer can monitor and make changes to their energy consumption, leading to cost saving.

The government’s vision is for every home, small business and public-sector organisation to start using and controlling consumption with smart meters. Smart metering is one of the largest national programmes now underway, which aims to implement 53 million smart meters in domestic premises and around 30 million in non-domestic premises.

Smart meter roll out

In the Climate Change Act to reduce emissions by 2050, the UK government had set out a plan to roll out the smart meters to every household and business. The energy regulator Ofgem is responsible for making sure that consumer rights are protected. It is regulating suppliers’ compliance with their smart metering obligations with the belief that smart meters offer the potential to confer significant benefits to the consumers.

The purpose and values of the smart meter roll-out have a wider context. As per the figure released by the UK government, smart meters are instrumental in cutting up to £16 billion off the annual cost of delivering net zero emissions by 2050. The government is committed and has put together an effective strategy to help consumers recognise the smart metering benefits.

Benefits of smart metering

The UK government aims to reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases and without smart meters it will be slower and harder. It is utmost vital to replace the conventional gas and electricity meters to smart meters to support transition to becoming carbon neutral. It not only provides direct and massive benefits to the consumers but is also very beneficial to the energy suppliers which allow them to carefully manage the demand and create the future energy system more efficient, flexible, reliable and cleaner.

  • To the consumer - Smart meters allow the consumer to see the energy usage and its costing. It eliminates the unpredictability of estimated billing, ensuring that consumers only pay for the energy they use. In fact, for many domestic households, installing smart meters means they receive a reduction in their bills which will, in effect pay for the new smart technologies, straightaway. Consumers can equally benefit from the ‘time of use’ tariff scheme that encourages them to opt for more energy consumption when it is available cheaply during off-peak periods. The smart tariff gives opportunity and flexibility to the user to alter their behaviour, in order to use less energy and to reduce their bills.
  • To the energy supplier - Monitoring the consumption of energy through smart meters helps energy providers understand the current demand and support future increases in demand. The energy companies predict how much energy is required by using near real time data and time-of-use-tariffs to create ‘smart grids’ to match supply with demand. A smarter grid, with more balanced demand constitutes the source to deliver low carbon electricity more efficiently and thereby reducing environmental impact.

By placing a huge emphasis on monitoring the demand-side, and making a two-way communication between consumers and the energy network, it effectively gives consumers a choice about the level of energy they consume. The real-time data generated by smart meters will provide a means for energy network operators to understand patterns in demand and accordingly ensure the right level of energy generation for a more efficient and stable grid.

The grid operators can plan to integrate the renewable energy by applying the analytics on the demand data produced by the smart meters. The investment the energy sector is making on a smart grid will help to manage supply and demand more effectively and this, in-turn, will help in bringing down costs and reduce carbon leading to a zero-carbon energy supply.

From a consumer perspective, many of households are opting for solar panels which can be used for their personal energy consumption. These households can contribute the spare energy back to the grid as a revenue generating option.

Powering the future with smart metering

We have established that empowering consumers to reduce their energy consumption is a key aim of the smart meter. Fast growing interest of the consumer in building smart homes and using electric vehicles allows embracing the technology needed to get towards a cleaner energy future.

  • Smart home - The smart metering infrastructure and Home Area Network will be instrumental in accomplishing the smart home. It enables consumers to securely integrate other smart appliances, with smart meters, and programme those appliances to operate automatically to take advantage of cheaper tariffs. According to British Telecom, the average UK household will contain 50 connected devices by 2023 (e.g. smart TVs, kitchen appliances, smart thermostats). Smart meters will reveal new ways for these devices to be integrated into the energy system. We can imagine a washing machine or a dishwasher being automatically operated during the off peak times, when energy is cheaper and sourced through renewable energy. This offers not only a cost-beneficial proposition for the consumers but also contributes towards a cleaner environment. 
  • Smart electric vehicle - The government is encouraging an increase in the adoption of electric vehicles and low carbon fuels. It will certainly help to make our environment cleaner by reducing the carbon emissions from petrol and diesel engines. Again, the role of smart meters will be pivotal in incentivising consumers into more sustainable energy use patterns opting to use tariffs when low carbon electricity is available. This will improve the flexibility in supply and reduce the peak demands, therefore enabling more renewable energy generation and lower CO2 emissions. The electrification of the vehicle will also benefit air quality, which is an urgent necessity for many of the world’s most populous cities. While electric vehicles will play their part in reducing emissions, so too will the smart meter. Without the proper use of smart meters, it will be challenging to address the high level of energy demands from electric vehicles and if electricity isn’t available for transport, the majority of vehicles will continue to use fossil fuels. 

A smarter way forward

Smart metering provides effective hassle-free control and encourages end-use energy efficiency. Smart meters challenges arise as the roll-out progresses. The government and energy supplier need to ensure that consumers are given regular, clear and comprehensive information. It is important to run far-reaching awareness campaigns about smart metering by providing the consumer with progress information that can help consumers understand their energy use in order to become enablers of a future low carbon energy system.

Once the rollout is completed, a new world of data will be available, which will help to consumers to control consumption and costs. The analyst demands that customer data should be used to offer a wide range of value-added services in order to improve the over-all customer experience; this includes offering greener energy options that in-turn would help the operators to better plan the integration of renewable energy into the grid.

The role of the regulatory bodies would be to examine security risks and controls during the roll out of smart electricity and gas meters to homes and small non-domestic properties. Consumer data collected through smart meters needs to be accessed in a responsible manner with consideration for the data privacy and security concerns of consumers.

The government is committed and has put together an effective strategy to help domestic and non-domestic consumers realise the benefits of smart metering whilst reinforcing the ambition to complete the smart meter roll out in order to achieve sustainable growth and the green agenda.