UK parliamentary committee critical of communications about smart meters


Following an inquiry launched in March, a UK parliamentary committee said that the government has not being clear enough with consumers about the benefits of smart meters.

A report by the science and technology committee found that the government lists 11 different objectives for its ambitious smart metering programme. These include savings for customers, although the amount of money saved by individuals is expected to be small. The major benefit, says the committee, will be the creation of a smarter energy system that optimises energy generation and supply, lowers emissions and helps energy security. The report therefore concludes that more should be done to communicate the national benefits alongside the potential savings for individuals.

The programme requires energy suppliers to offer 53 million smart meters to homes and small businesses by 2020. The first phase began in 2013 and consisted in the installation of some 3.6 million devices. The second phase, the mass rollout, has been delayed several times and is expected to start in the coming weeks. The cost of the entire operation is estimated at some GBP10.9 billion, borne by consumers through the energy bill.

Smart meters should allow people to better control their energy use, see what type of energy they consume and how much it costs, thus becoming more efficient and saving money. These tools also provide the foundation for smart grids and real time demand-side response. This will help reduce energy consumption and balance the network, encouraging the uptake of renewables.

The inquiry was meant to scrutinize how smart meters will affect consumer behaviour, how they can alter energy usage patterns, what are the net savings for individuals and how data can be used to optimise national energy generation and storage.

“It would be easy to dismiss the smart meter project as an inefficient way of saving a small amount of money on energy bills, but the evidence suggests there are major national benefits, including establishing a smarter, more energy secure grid. The government needs to have more clarity around this so householders are clear about the true benefits,” said Dr Tania Mathias, interim chair of the committee.

Sacha Deshmukh, Chief Executive of Smart Energy GB, the agency in charge of the rollout, responded: “Over the past year, Smart Energy GB has brought together British and international experts from business, technology and government to discuss the forward-thinking innovations that a digitised energy system will enable, from new time-of-use tariffs and a more resilient energy grid, to smarter cities and new innovations using energy data. We agree with the committee that it is essential to communicate these wider benefits of Britain’s digital energy transformation and are doing so strongly through our campaigns.”

The report said that consumers need to be better engaged in the rollout through tailored advice, as the “smartness” of the programme comes from what customers can do with the devices.

As smart meters use wireless technologies to enable two-way communication with utilities, the inquiry also explored issues of security. While being confident that security is being taken seriously, MPs concluded that “the government will need to do more to convince and reassure customers that the technology is safe from being hacked.

Claudia Delpero

Similar Entries

The last words of the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change committee were a call to the British government to incentivize energy storage and demand side response technologies.

Scientists from the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research in Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) are looking to use improved, self-learning algorithms to get a more detailed picture of energy flows in the electrical grid. A major research project was launched to this end in February 2017. These algorithms will serve to more accurately forecast consumers' needs and the amount of electricity generated from renewables. Satellite data will also be used to improve feed-in forecasts. The results of the researchers' efforts are to be tested and refined in power companies' grids.

The smart grid inverter by Imeon Energy presented at Intersolar Europe 2016. (Photo: Tanja Peschel)

At this year’s Intersolar Europe, the French company Imeon Energy presented their all-in-one smart grid inverters. The inverters can be used for storing excess PV power in batteries, managing electricity supply from the grid in case of low solar irradiation and to manage off-grid systems.

Large energy buyers across the world have woken up to the unstoppable force of the UN climate treaty and it’s not just about lowering carbon usage. As businesses and cities explore the opportunities brought to them by innovative technology, low carbon generation and clever ways to manage their energy, they are realising savings with and without on-site solar. Clean Energy Live is a showcase for innovation, demonstrating the technology and business models that are delivering energy at lower cost and lower carbon.