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Smart Metering – Creating the platform for future Smart Homes

Author : Terry Rowbury, BEAMA

Enhanced end-to-end management and control of UK energy supply is no longer just hype, but is now being recognised and accepted as the best way forward to underpin the efforts required to deliver the challenging UK climate change targets.

Terry Rowbury, BEAMA

The Coalition Government recently published its ‘Pathways to 2050’ documents and these highlighted:

The need for, and commitment to, a substantial level of electrification of heating, transport and industry.

*A doubling of the electricity supply and decarbonisation of the grid.

*An increase in renewable generation and a need to balance the grid.

*A reduction in per capita energy demand

This declared direction of travel will present significant challenges and opportunities for all sectors of the electrical industry.

The immediate focus of activity has been on the rollout of Smart Metering. Following the publication of the Smart Metering Prospectus, DECC appointed Ofgem to lead on the next stage of development, and the full consultation process has swung into action for the design and development of the Smart meter rollout. This involves a huge range of meetings to cover Technical Assessment; Governance; Technical Issues, Functionality, Security and Rollout.
This high level of concerted activity reinforces the Government’s desire to speed-up the process and commence the formal rollout of smart metering as soon as possible.

Major task

Installing nearly 50 million meters in 26 million UK homes is a major task, and should not be underestimated. It is vitally important that the initial planning and development phase is managed correctly. The introduction of Smart meters will be a key facilitation element for the ‘Smart Revolution’ and it is important that the initial specification is robust, but flexible enough to accommodate future developments in technology. The meter will be the catalyst and enabler of all the ‘sexy stuff’ that will follow as energy suppliers and other service providers develop more sophisticated service offerings.

The accessibility to real time data from the meter will facilitate enhanced and proactive communication between energy service providers and energy consumers. Similarly, clever analysis and use of this data at a network/grid level will facilitate more refined management of the electricity supply network. This in turn should result in a more reliable and effective energy supply system with lower operating and maintenance costs.

To make the ‘Smart Energy Revolution’ happen and realise the potential Smart technology opportunities, the energy and electrical sectors must ensure the right pan-industry skills are in place. Industry players must fully understand and harness convergence and the rapid developments in telephony, which will have a major role in network and smart grid solutions.
Integration across different networks is vital too – new smart technologies cannot be seen in isolation. Thinking on UK Smart electricity networks needs to be developed in tandem with the Smart meter rollout. This needs to address how their introduction relates to broader energy and climate change policy, political ambition and timescale, plus technology opportunities from Smart electrical systems. The underlying theme should be to bring together networks, buildings and individual transport for a Smarter approach to energy management.

It is this integration of the previously disparate interests of distribution networks, metering and in-home technology that provides the real buzz of excitement and opportunity. A further dimension is added by the increasing profile and expectations focused on an expanding role for electric vehicles.

No longer seen as the ‘Aunt Sally’ of the energy world, electric vehicles are increasingly becoming a viable element in planning for the future UK energy infrastructure. This can be seen from the various city-wide schemes being developed across the UK, not least of which is in London where the plan is for 100,000 electric vehicles as soon as possible with 1,300 public charging points installed by 2013. This expansion of the electric vehicle fleet will also create new opportunities for electrical contractors in installing new circuits for domestic charging points.

The introduction of in-home displays, and the greater interaction between consumers and their use of energy, will create a number of opportunities for contractors with which to engage. Internal Home Area Networks will develop, which will facilitate communication between heating, lighting and appliances in the home and contractors will need to be up-to-date with the latest technologies. This will involve ‘Smarter’ use of existing technologies e.g. occupancy sensors installed to control lighting could also communicate with heating controls, security systems and alarm systems.

The contractors that engage and become familiar with the wider Smart technologies and systems will be those that are in demand in the future. Manufacturers will also need to gear-up and develop new innovative products that interact with in-home communication systems and provide greater control to the consumer.

There will be a major industry-wide opportunity to manufacture and install more sophisticated systems for controls, communications, security, vehicle charging and home management.
Ten years ago nobody would have predicted the fast-moving mobile telecoms products that are now taken for granted and used daily by everybody. The next decade will bring just as significant advances, and the electrical systems and energy industries must be up-to-speed to fully integrate such innovation. This will ensure the future challenges for Smart developments are overcome and the ‘Smart Energy Revolution’ is successful.

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