Government targets have been set for smart meters to be operational in 26 million homes by 2019. This comes at a massive burden to suppliers of £11.7 billion. Roll out is set to commence in 2014 and it is hoped the scheme will go a long way to helping the country to meet its energy efficiency targets.
Experts predict savings of as much as £7 billion will be available to both suppliers and consumers. Generally recognised as a product of the future for electricity supply, many people do not realise Smart meters will be available for gas and water metering too. So what are these magic gizmos threatening to turn our energetic lives upside down?
Smart meters will replace our standard traditional meters and will be able to communicate in real time with the national grid. Translating our usage into data they will allow energy providers to make far more accurate assessments of how much energy is being used and when.
First Utility already have their own version of a smart meter available which works from a sim card very much like a mobile phone. Many later models due to be released by competitor companies are expected to use radio technology and GPS. These are able to offer reliable long range, remote monitoring and communications with the grid.
The joy of this mobile technology is the capability for use of extremely flexible software which can be programmed to perform any number of functions. They can read, assess, and communicate data as required.
More importantly, they can also be adapted and updated as required with no need for physical intervention by an engineer. In the same way a Windows update finds its way to a personal computer, updates and changes can be sent remotely to smart meters.
These collect data as often as hourly and transmit it back to the grid to make reports on energy usage. On a small scale to the bill payer, this will mean far more accurate meter readings and no further need for costly incorrect bill estimations.
Any power outages will be discovered far more quickly and fault reports will be automatically sent to the supplier. Installed software enables common problems to be fixed immediately and often without the need of a visit from an engineer.
The bigger picture means suppliers are able to see energy usage across the grid in real time. They can see exactly how much energy is required not only in various parts of the country, but to far more precise locations too.
This knowledge will enable them to plan and source effectively, eradicating many of the situations which lead to expensive outages. Effective predictions will allow for more precise forecasting for generation of electricity and purchase of natural gas too.
Companies will be able to charge more for electricity used at peak times and less at off-peak times so that the peak demand will be reduced as customers adjust their lifestyles to use less electricity at peak times.
Flexible software allows for geographical differences in legislation and needs too. Whereas traditional meters are designed to one particular spec which must be replicated over and over again, smart meters have the capability to become almost bespoke to the required area.
No More Meter Readings
With the advent of automatic meter reading, staff will no longer required to physically visit each home. Currently energy suppliers are required to take a physical reading from household meters once a year. These guidelines will become obsolete and with it go the salaries and costs involved in keeping their transport on the roads.
Customer services departments are likely to be downsized as historically the highest reason for queries and complaints, meter reading discrepancies become a thing of the past. In short with the introduction of smart meters, energy providers’ salary bills will be slashed.
In their own right, smart electric meters will not save customers money but many will be provided with add-ons such as energy monitors.
It is however important not to confuse the two. An energy monitor will allow households to review their energy consumption and see where there are areas they can make efficiency savings. Smart meters will dramatically overhaul the way energy companies are run and with them we achieve one step closer to handing over a cleaner, greener country to our children.