In the past few years, millions of us have switched over to smart meters to better understand the energy we’re using — reducing both our carbon footprint and our energy bills. And as more of us make the switch, these savings have the potential to grow even further. Smart meters are also part of a much bigger transformation of the country’s energy infrastructure — helping build a flexible, decentralised and decarbonised energy system that will contribute to making Britain smarter, greener and ready for our future energy demands. It’s called the smart energy system — and it’s a completely new way of managing our energy.
The first electricity grids were built as one-way streets, enabling power to flow from suppliers to the consumer. This system helped turn on the lights across Britain, but it’s time for a flexible and agile system, better equipped for our future needs.
The main problem with our current infrastructure is that it waits to find out how much electricity is needed at any given time and then responds accordingly. Although it can cope with current demand, it’s not always able to do so in the most efficient or environmentally friendly way — i.e. through using renewable power. The challenge of meeting our demands while moving to green energy will only increase as more of us adopt electric vehicles and heat pumps.
The smart option
Unlike our current system, the smart energy infrastructure is fully digital, giving suppliers real-time information on electricity consumption. This means a much more accurate understanding of where energy is being used, allowing us to better manage supply against demand.
In theory, this is quite simple: imagine the data shows Manchester’s electricity usage typically peaks around 7 p.m., while London reaches its highest levels at 9 p.m. Once we know this, the smart energy system can automatically allocate tomorrow’s energy in the most efficient way.
This will reduce electricity wastage on a national scale, adding to the existing savings that smart meters already deliver to households through reducing consumption. And with the near real-time data sent remotely by smart meters, networks will have greater visibility of our country’s live energy consumption, meaning they can monitor and respond more quickly.
The smart revolution is happening in Britain, from wind farms and electric cars, to smart meters and solar panels
The greener choice
Britain has committed to ambitious targets to help tackle the climate emergency. But without smart meters, this process of decarbonisation will be slower, harder and more expensive — perhaps meaning we fail to achieve our goals altogether.
Although roughly 30 per cent of our electricity comes from renewable sources, the current system makes them less efficient and cost-effective than they should be. When demand surges, for example, it can often exceed supply as power from renewable sources is intermittent. Networks then have to burn fossil fuels to make up the shortage.
But with the upgraded smart energy system, we will be able to make better use of storing intermittent renewable power through batteries within the system and minimise energy wastage at source. With better forward planning, we can make use of renewables even during times of high demand — thus making it easier to decarbonise our whole energy system.
Meanwhile, dynamic tariffs will vary the cost of electricity in real time in order to match demand to supply. They will alert the system and consumers to when the supply of renewable electricity is high and cheap, meaning that instances of large demand (such as the overnight charging of electric vehicles) can be moved to the most efficient time.
The smart energy system can also facilitate peer-to-peer energy trading, allowing consumers to choose where they want to get their energy from and to trade the excess energy they generate. This will give households with solar panel installations or battery storage the opportunity to earn some extra revenue by trading within their local energy community.
Adapting to change
The way we use electricity is constantly changing. As we look to decarbonise large sectors of our economy, such as transport and heating, our reliance on electricity is expected to increase. It is therefore essential we have a system that can adapt as quickly as possible.
The government has committed to all new cars being zero-emission by 2050, which means a big rise in electric vehicles. But while this growth helps reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, it also means a much bigger demand for electricity. The smart energy system can observe the impact of these changes in real time and then respond in the most effective way. And could the smart energy system also provide inspiration and insight for the next generation of entrepreneurs?
Greater visibility — and understanding — of our electricity usage will certainly make the energy market itself ripe for disruption, enabling companies to offer better services for cheaper prices. Something which would benefit millions of customers and businesses.
Make it happen
The smart revolution is happening in Britain, bringing reliable, efficient and low-carbon energy and providing the physical and data infrastructure for a new economic era. But realising this vision begins in the home. By upgrading to a smart meter, you’re helping build a smarter Britain — delivering a cleaner, greener and more sustainable economy better equipped for the 21st century.
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