Boosting the energy resilience of Britain with smart meters


The power marketplace is complex. Consumers are understandably confused by the range of tariffs and suppliers – and even where the energy comes from. In 2021, 40 percent of our electricity was produced using gas, about half of which was imported by pipeline from Norway or by ship from places like Qatar, the United States, and Russia.

Smart meters enable contrast to this opaque system. They offer visibility and transparency that can help consumers make decisions that are best for themselves.

As electricity prices rise, smart meters are playing an increasing role in helping people feel more in control of what they spend on energy and building resilience into the system.

“Smart meters can help consumers save money by enabling them to reduce or change their energy use,” said Anna Moss, senior consultant at Cornwall Insight, which recently partnered with Smart Energy GB to produce a report on smart meters and energy security.

According to analysis via way of means of Smart Energy GB, 36 percent of UK humans are extra worried approximately wherein their power comes from due to growing prices.

Meanwhile, 45 percent said they wanted less dependence on fossil fuels. Crucially, 41 percent of respondents supported Britain producing more energy to make our energy system smarter and more sustainable.

Government energy policy has also shifted towards energy security with a greater focus on nuclear and renewables to shift our electricity supply to British sources.

Smart meters are critical to building more resilient infrastructure that can respond to geopolitical crises and climate change. On an average day, energy use is moderate from morning to evening – when it is at its peak. When we go to sleep it subsides. These peak hours are the costliest and most demanding on our energy system.

If we can smooth out the peak and use more energy overnight instead, it will mean more of our energy needs can be met by renewables rather than fossil fuels. This is because we still depend on fossil fuels to meet the high energy demand.

The way we pay for energy has started to reflect this approach to demand management. This past winter, the Demand Flexibility Service operated by National Grid ESO was able to reimburse people for reducing their energy use during peak hours. Initial reviews from Octopus Energy, one of the providers collaborating withinside the trial, show that around 200,000 households have reduced their electricity demand, saving 108 MW an hour.

The average consumer earned £1 on top of their energy savings, with the top 5 percent earning an average of £4.27. National Grid ESO estimates that the scheme could save around 1.5GW in those critical peak hours. To place that into perspective, 1GW can strengthen a hundred million LEDs or 300,000 homes.

This means that suppliers can design tariff and payment systems that encourage and reward better choices for the planet and reduce our dependence on imported energy sources.

“Time-of-use” tariffs do exactly this, offering different prices at different times of the day, like peak and off-peak train tickets. For example, charging electric vehicles or devices overnight or running a dishwasher or washing machine outside of peak hours can reduce costs. Time-of-use price lists presently in improvement will use records amassed via way of means of clever meters to offer bendy alternatives for quite several consumers.

There are already a range of models for how they might work: tariffs where the peak rate is usually close to or no higher than a normal flat tariff rate and off-peak rates are lower; tariffs where the peak rate is high and the off-peak rate is significantly lower; and duties that have variable and dynamic rates that more closely match wholesale market prices “If you’re moving [energy use] to another time and you’re linking it to a time-of-use tariff, you’re supporting a reduction in peak demand during the day. But you may be rewarded for shifting your energy use around because you’re accessing lower price points,” Moss explains.

This move towards time-of-use charging means other technologies may be useful, especially as more of us swap our petrol cars for electric vehicles. For example, consumers can be rewarded for storing energy in batteries when renewable energy production is abundant.

“If we can have things like smart charging and what’s called ‘vehicle-to-grid charging,’ it will give us better control over when vehicles are taking electricity from the grid and potentially the ability to feed electricity back into them. “, says Moss.

That energy can then be used to reduce demand. It can also help with more responsive renewable energy generation, or coordinated energy consumption planning in cities or neighborhoods.

The government has a vision of how this will work in practice. In its Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan, released in 2021, it set out how consumers would be able to access smart tariffs and appliances by 2020, with smart technologies becoming the norm by the 2030s.

Smart meters are already a critical part of our energy system.

They provide purchasers with a degree of management in instances of uncertainty. They could be the key to creating a new energy-secure and climate-friendly infrastructure that will be more resilient and responsive to consumer demand.

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Marta Lopez

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By Marta Lopez

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