Can Smart Meters save the Environment?
Smart meters are energy consumption meters able to automatically send back energy use numbers to the supplier. Their positive impact on the environment can be two-fold: on the consumer end, by encouraging a reduction of energy use and on the provider end, by serving up actionable data on current demand so that no energy is wasted at the production stage.
What can smart meters do for the environment?
1. Smart Meters & Consumers
For UK households, the appeal of smart meters hinges on the ability to see energy use almost in real-time. Instead of having to dig through bills with a calculator by your side, you can see your energy spend at a glance.
The hope is that with easy-to-understand data at their fingertips, energy consumers can make informed decisions and change their energy use habits. Ideally, the cumulative effect of people closing their fridge doors, not overfilling kettles and setting appropriate room temperatures all over the UK will mean lower energy consumption nationwide.
The net effect for the environment is that if less energy is needed overall, less will need to be generated. Since renewable sources like solar, wind, hydro and green gas do not yet make up our full energy mix, any reduction in energy demand means lower carbon emissions and less reliance on nuclear power. All of this is good news for the environment as well as people’s wallets. However, the benefits extend to the supply side too.
2. Smart Meters & Energy Infrastructure
For the UK energy sector, the data relayed by smart meters can make a real difference in how wholesale energy is generated and then traded, even before it is distributed to end users.
By giving companies at every stage of the energy vertical an accurate picture of consumer energy demand, smart meters provide companies with the information they need to reduce energy waste that is inherent in complex infrastructure and market systems.
Smart meters v smart grids
While the main advantage smart meters bring to the table is a wealth of data, it is ultimately what the national grid and the UK government decide to do with it that will define how useful smart meters are for UK consumers as well as for the environment.
The challenge with electricity generation is that, unlike gas, it must be used straight away as it cannot be stored. That has been the conventional philosophy in electric grid infrastructure design until recently.
The advent of mass-produced, therefore more affordable, battery storage from the likes of Tesla means that the status quo can potentially be thrown out the window. With sufficient battery storage, energy grids could ride out supply and demand volatility caused by large events or unpredictable weather. The smart grid concept is based on battery storage being able to fill in any peaks or shortfalls in the grid.
Smart meters have a big part to play in this future vision of energy infrastructure for the UK. Their ability to collect and relay usage data at near real-time speeds is unprecedented and would enable energy companies to respond to volatility in a much more proactive way than they have in the past.
The one million pound question is whether systems will be built out to analyse that data so that energy companies can streamline their decision-making process. This approach will let them implement responsive infrastructure technology and avoid wasteful and dirty energy generation which can bring about a positive impact on our environmen
Pros and cons of smart meters
Smart meters, like any other new technology, has teething issues. However, the question is whether the benefits outweigh the downsides.
|Advantages of smart meters||Disadvantages of smart meters|
|Making energy use easier to understand||Signal reception issues in rural areas|
|Potential to change energy use habits||Reliability and quality control issues|
|Can help lower energy use||Privacy and data mining concerns|
|Greater insight into energy trends||Slow and uneven smart meter rollout|
|Potential integration with future smart grid||Miscommunication from energy suppliers|
|Help with the renewable energy transition||Unclear long-term policy goals|
The smart meter rollout is supposed to go on through 2020 as the UK government turned the hard deadline into a softer industry-wide goal for energy suppliers. While smart meters have many upsides, both on the retail and wholesale ends of the energy sector, their net utility for the UK as a whole is fully contingent on the advantages being leveraged at both ends of the market.
In this respect, the government has been light on the details as to why smart meters are good for the UK and not just end users. Successive ministers have overstated the potential for smart meters to lower energy bills for consumers and news articles have come out challenging those claims while highlighting the cost of the entire endeavour.
Meanwhile, a big question mark remains on how smart meters can help out on the supply side of the energy market. Moving forward, the public and private sector need to develop clear policies on how the data goldmine that smart meters provide can be used for the greater good - to bolster renewable energy use, reinforce UK energy independence, especially in the face of Brexit, and reduce energy waste.
Are smart meters compulsory in 2020?
Current government policy states that smart meters aren’t compulsory. However, the reality on the high street is a little different.
Most energy suppliers are fully invested when it comes to the smart meter rollout. Unfortunately, this means that communication about smart meter requirements is rife with misleading statements.
This is where things stand with smart meters today:
- Some suppliers may have certain tariffs that you can only sign up for if you agree to a smart meter.
- Some suppliers may persistently contact customers about switching to a smart meter.
- Some less scrupulous employees have claimed that there are fees or fines for not having a smart meter.
The solution to all these issues is the same. If you are not on a fixed rate tariff with exit fees (these are unrelated to smart meters) then vote with your feet, use a reputable energy advice service to see who has competitive energy pricing in your area and then switch to a supplier that does not require smart meters.