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Electricity meters about to get smarter

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 13 May 2009 at 1:55 pm

A smarter grid, more suitable for transmitting renewable energy, is a step closer with the Government’s announcement on Monday that every home in the UK must have a smart meter installed by 2020.

Smart meters transmit and receive information from your electricity or gas supplier in real time. This means that you can see what you’re using, and how much it costs, and adjust your usage accordingly. Your supplier can send you an accurate bill without having to read your meter.

When demand is low, your supplier will be able to lower the price, to encourage use then. This will show on your meter, so you might run your washing machine at night, for example.

“Smart meters will empower all consumers to monitor their own energy use and make reductions in energy consumption and carbon emissions as a result,” said Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary. “Smart meters will also mean the end of inaccurate bills and estimated meter readings.”

The emphasis of the Government’s announcement was on the impact on the individual household, with less emphasis given to the significance of a smart grid to our ability to generate a higher proportion of electricity from renewable sources.

As Chris Goodall points out on his Carbon Commentary blog, “the principal value of intelligent meters lies in their ability to help electricity suppliers manage demand – downward and upward.” This will be particularly important as we have more electricity from variable or unreliable sources, although it will also be used to smooth out peaks and troughs of electricity use.

So if there’s a sudden drop in the wind, the meter will flash a higher price, and fridges can be told to temporarily turn off or we can choose not to boil the kettle or charge an electric car (once we have smart meters we'll realise how energy intensive it is to boil a kettle - even an eco one!). In fact electric car batteries will be used by the grid to store power, so when there is a peak in demand, the it can draw power from them.

The Department of Energy and Climate change is consulting on how to roll out the distribution of meters until 24 July. Under the Government’s preferred plan the cost is estimated at £8.11bn, which the utility companies will pay for, but be able to pass on to customers.

While consumers will be able to save money if they have real time information, the utility companies will also benefit from significant savings in costs of meter reading and demand management. We feel strongly that consumers shouldn’t bear the cost and call on the Government to make sure that the utility companies pay their fair share.

photo by delgaudm


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