Smart grid and smart meters: do we need them?

You may have heard about, or been offered a smart meter. Every energy supplier must offer its customers a smart meter by 2020.  But it’s not compulsory to have one.

Should we bother to get a smart meter?  The answer is YES, (but possibly not immediately).

Smart meters will enable the smart grid, which is a whole new way of running energy networks. It’s an internet for gas and electricity and will make us help us manage our energy usage much more efficiently and sensibly.

The energy network we have now was designed for a time when energy needs were much simpler. It was sourced from big, mostly coal burning power stations which were linked in a National Grid and served the whole country.  50 years ago, we had little consciousness of the need to save energy or reduce carbon emissions. But as this understanding and our knowledge has grown, we realise we must find ways to reduce our carbon emissions and integrate new technologies, like electric cars and solar and wind energy.

The smart grid will:

  • Mean we can better match supply and demand
  • Help us be more efficient, greener and waste less energy
  • Help energy be more secure and reliable
  • Mean unexpected power outages can be tackled faster
  • Mean we can plan for the number of power stations we’ll need in future with greater accuracy

A smart meter incentivises both you and your supply company to make more efficient use of energy.  You will have a display which tells you how much energy you are using at any time.  That will remind you to turn off unused halogen lights, or machines unnecessarily left on stand-by.  It might remind you not to fill your kettle with more water than you need when you see the amount of energy consumed by boiling water.  Your supply company can use a smart meter to create and sell you a half hourly tariff which will cost you more at peak times and much less and when national (or local) energy needs are less. The meters send automatic readings to your energy supplier at least once a month, so you will receive accurate, not estimated, bills.

So why not get one now?  You can, but you should make sure that your meter is the latest version and is not linked solely to your present electric supplier.  Check that the meter can transmit data to whichever energy company you choose to use in the future as well as now. And you may want to wait until your preferred supplier is offering them. At the moment, only 12 companies are offering immediate installation of smart meters, all will have to by 2020.

Further information at www.smartenergygb.orgwww.gov.uk/guidance/smart-meters-how-they-work and numerous other Internet sources.