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Smart Meters: saving energy into the future

 

woman looking at a smart meter display while child plays in front of her

Smart meters have been around for a while but to date only around 35% of UK homes already have a smart meter installed. A smart meter sends automatic meter readings straight to your supplier, as well as showing you what energy you’re using, where and when on an in-home display. This helps you manage your energy usage as well as ending estimated bills.

The UK Government invested £11billion to rollout 53 million smart meters into homes by 2020. But as recent reports have identified, the installation process is way off target. In March 2019, more than 14.3million smart meters were in operation across the UK, as opposed to 34.3million traditional meters. Roughly a quarter of residential smart meters are in ‘smart mode’ operating with advanced functionality, with many meters having returned to ‘dumb’ one-way metering when people switched suppliers.

From March 2019, all newly installed smart meters should be the second-generation ‘switchable’ meters, also known as SMETS2, which maintain functionality should you switch supplier. The older SMETS1 smart meters frequently stop working when you switch supplier, although if you already have one it may be possible to remotely upgrade it in the future or get it replaced with a ‘switchable’ meter.

Why do we need smart meters?

Smart meters allow you to see when you’re using the most energy and how much it’s costing you. They eliminate the unpredictability of estimated billing, ensuring that you pay for exactly what you use. In fact, for many smaller households, installing smart meters means they see a reduction in their bills straightaway.

Smart meters are also the starting point of a vital upgrade to our national energy infrastructure. At a macro level, the information they provide will allow energy companies to create ‘smart grids’, using digital technology to predict how much electricity is needed, where and when, so we can better match supply with demand. A smarter grid, with more balanced demand, actively contributes to the decarbonisation of energy and the reduction of emissions created from needing to generate extra power from fossil fuels.

On a personal level, paying for exactly what you use and understanding and managing your energy use provides a tangible benefit right now. But beyond the ability to use this information to regulate your energy use, smart meters will also allow you to access developing services taken from using the data provided by smart meters in the future.

Future benefits of smart meters

tablet displaying connected icons for a smart house

Smart meters accurately monitor what energy you’re using, when, and how. They can link up to domestic energy generation systems (such as solar panels on your roof) and monitor, or in the future maybe even regulate how much you’re feeding back into the grid. The technology is almost there to allow this to happen but it starts with having a smart meter installed.

Even if you don’t generate your own energy, battery technology is developing all the time. Having a battery at home to store energy would open up the possibility of taking advantage of time-of-use tariffs. For example, you could access energy at times of surplus, when the cost is low and either use it when it is more expensive to bring your bills down, or potentially sell it back into the grid at a profit.

A simpler offering might be switching services using the data on your energy use to see which tariff would be most economic for you. This could allow you to switch automatically to the cheapest tariff – saving you time and money. There are already services in place that automatically switch your energy supplier to cheaper tariffs, putting smart meter data behind those switches would ensure it matched up with your lifestyle. We’re already starting to see some switching services using consumption information from a smart meter.

As our homes become ‘smarter’ with the devices and appliances in them connected to each other, known as the internet of things, we’ll start to see home automation taking advantage of variations in the cost of electricity. For example, we could set our washing machines or dishwashers to turn on when electricity is cheap.

We’re not quite there - yet. But there will be organisations competing to offer innovative services to customers once smart meters are in place across the UK. This makes it all the more frustrating to see the target for the installation of smart meters pushed back to 2023.

Energy Saving Trust and Smart Meter research projects

Energy Saving Trust is currently involved in three projects that are exploring some of the future uses of smart meter data.

In Scotland, the Smart Meter Advice Portal will use smart meter data to provide a more personalised energy saving service to Home Energy Scotland customers. Energy Saving Trust is one of the first organisations to use data directly from the flexible second generation meters in a pilot phase at the moment.

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s Smart Energy Savings (SENS) competition invited submissions for ideas to use smart meter data to deliver energy savings. Energy Saving Trust is part of the consortium evaluating these ideas.

Energy Saving Trust is also a consortium member of the Smart Energy Research Lab, which provides smart meter data for academic research. This project is run by University College London and aims to enable research into using smart meter data to benefit the energy system, energy efficiency and innovation.

What do I do if I want a smart meter?

Energy companies are responsible for the installation of smart meters and ultimately everyone will get one. If you’re keen to find out more about smart meter installation in your area, contact your energy company and ask what’s happening. Some providers will work through different geographical areas one at a time and others will respond to requests for smart meters. If you’re not happy with the response from your current provider, you could always phone around and ask other energy companies what their policy is.

All installations should be carried out by a trained installer from the energy company – at no cost to you personally. A typical smart meter installation should take around one and a half hours but it will vary from property to property, depending on where your current meters are located.

When you get a smart meter installed, your energy company should provide you with information and advice about how to manage your energy consumption. Some energy companies will use an app created by Energy Saving Trust for this purpose, others may have printed information or a website for you to look at. Getting appropriate advice is essential for you to make the most out of your smart meter installation.

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