How smart meters can empower consumers to engage with their energy use

Smart meters are a great invention, helping people rid themselves of unnecessary meter readings and, potentially, reducing energy waste. But what role do consumers themselves play in making the most of this technology?

The smart energy system isn’t just a way of cutting down on the need for engineers to take meter readings; it’s also part of a process that is transforming the energy sector. Energy consumers are gradually moving from passive receivers of quarterly bills, to active players in the fight against waste. 

This is happening, according to experts, because they are being handed more information about their energy use and, in many cases, also the power to do something about it.  

This trend, and the opportunities and threats associated with it, were discussed by a group of leading industry thinkers at COP26 in Glasgow; a meeting hosted by Daisy Cross, head of the smart energy programme ay Energy UK. 

On the panel, Dan Brooke, chief executive at Smart Energy GB, said smart meters were creating an energy system that is “more flexible, (and) more dynamic”. He compared it with the development of satnav systems that provide up-to-date information on journeys, as opposed to the historic use of maps. 

Some smart meters come with in home displays (IHDs), giving users near real-time data about their energy consumption and equipping them with the tools to adapt to more energy efficient living. This could be by switching activity to off-peak periods or by generally cutting down on intensive usage patterns. 

The same is true for the engineers whose job it is to balance the energy system: “A satnav gets me to meetings in the quickest, most efficient way. Data from smart meters helps engineers get energy around the system with the greatest efficiency,” said Brooke. 

It’s a concept that excites many energy users, but, Brooke acknowledges, mainstream users are playing catch-up when it comes to concepts such as ‘time of use tariffs’ – which refers to the different price of energy at different times of the day. 

But innovation in the space is pushing technology to consumers that’s easy to understand and to deploy. Soon, says Brooke, electrical vehicle drivers will be able to set charging rules via their smartphones, giving them the power they need at the lowest possible tariff.  

“When energy is at its most expensive, you’ll be able to draw electricity from your car, which is basically a big battery on wheels.” 

For this to become a reality, people need to get used to utilising their energy information to take an action.  

Jason Stevens, principal consultant at Engage Consulting, agrees with the role that IHDs play in bring people closer to their energy data, and during the COP26 discussion he said this will result in greater decision-making opportunities down the line, as well as more convenient pre-payment and remote top-ups. 

Not only will humans understand more about energy, but so will machines. Steve Cunningham, chief executive of Geo, an energy technology provider, said: “There are already some white goods and thermostats that talk to smart meters to control things like heating and power, avoiding peaks and cutting carbon emissions.” 

>See also: Driving energy transformation with smart utilities

He admits that the industry is only beginning this journey, but believes “interesting products” and use cases such as these will bring more consumers on board. Taking the satnav analogy a step further, he said it will be like going from maps, to GPS, to autonomous vehicles. 

“Over the next couple of years, we’ll see a real evolution of capability in these products to deliver seamless benefit to customers. That’s the key step: visibility,” he said. 

Andy Manning, head of energy systems at Citizens Advice, said this ability to “flex” power consumption will provide “real value” to consumers. He pointed out that generation companies make revenue by providing extra capacity to the grid at peak times and suggested it’s possible to “move that value to consumers”. 

The panel were unified on the potential, but also on the importance of consumer understanding.  

Energy users can play their part, by researching the opportunities that appear in coming years, by adopting energy saving technology like smart meters and practices, and by engaging with the growing opportunity to build knowledge, control costs and protect the environment.    

For more information about the benefits of installing a smart meter in your workplace, visit the Smart Energy GB at smartenergygb.org

This article is part of a paid-for information campaign for Smart Energy GB.

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