In the UK, 53 million smart meters for electricity and gas will be installed across all households and small non-domestic premises between 2015 and 2020 to achieve a low carbon and energy-secure economy. The smart meters will form the basis of the country’s smart grid enabling real-time, two-way communication between energy suppliers and consumers.
The current electricity grid is reliable and can deal with normal fluctuations in electricity use as the size of the grid and power stations are built at capacities to comfortably meet peak demand. This involves relying on flexible, carbon-intensive electricity generation technologies that can adjust to day-to-day fluctuations in energy demand. However, moving towards a low-carbon energy system presents numerous challenges with regard to electricity control including:
- There will be increased demand from the use of electric vehicles
- Renewable energy production – wind and solar – is inflexible
- Decentralized electricity generation e.g. roof-top solar panels installed at household and community-levels will change the size of electricity drawn off the grid and require connecting to the electricity network to feed in excess supply
- Connections with offshore wind generators and interconnections with other countries will allow for importing/exporting of renewable energy
The deployment of low-carbon technologies will mean less predictable electricity production and change in user patterns, resulting in the need for the system to enable electricity to flow in both directions: from electricity supplier to customers and electricity generated by customers back into the grid.
Developing the UK’s smart grid
In the UK the development of a smart grid will enable:
- Precise demand management: Suppliers can see real-time information on electricity consumption and implement demand-side management strategies including compensation schemes to encourage customers to shift consumption to off-peak times
- Increased energy efficiency and lower electricity bills: Smart meters give customers a clear picture of their energy consumption. This helps them identify areas where savings can be made e.g. purchasing more energy-efficient household appliances, lowering their electricity bill and reducing carbon emissions
- Reduced infrastructure costs: Improved demand management can reduce peak demand and allow overall increased electricity usage during off-peak periods without constructing additional power plants.
Domestic customers and small non-domestic premises will be offered an In-Home Display linked to their smart meter enabling them to see their energy usage and how much it’s costing. The benefits of smart meters for consumers include:
- Lower energy consumption and lower electricity bills
- Accurate meter reads
- Ability to export back to grid excess electricity generated on-site from solar panels, small wind-turbines etc.
The development of smart grids with smart meters providing real-time information for consumers ensures the electricity system can move from 1.0 to a 2.0 low-carbon future.