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Smart grids and the future of energy distribution

Smart electricity networks are crucial to the efficient distribution of energy around the UK. This is important if Britain is to meet its climate targets. The fundamental challenge is to ensure that electricity generation meets electricity demand efficiently. But this challenge comes with a few tricky caveats. Energy can’t be stored very easily so once it’s been generated you only have a short time to get it into premises. Electricity needs to be on demand all the time – people won’t be happy if they flick the light switch and nothing happens. Energy generation is also a relatively slow process. Generators can take time to turn on and start pumping out juice – it’s not just as simple as flicking a switch. The network efficiency problem is a complex one. But it’s one that we need to figure out quickly. The EU aims to improve energy efficiency by 20% by 2020. If we achieve this target then smart meters and the Internet of Things (IoT) will almost certainly play a part.

Smart meters and the Internet of Things

Smart meters open up a number of possibilities for intelligent distribution networks. Smart meters communicate a premises’ energy consumption data to suppliers and other third parties in real time. Because they connect to the internet and relay feedback to operators like this, smart meters fall on the IoT spectrum. And once the government’s smart meter rollout is complete (sometime around 2020) these very useful data collectors will be installed in every home and non-domestic site in the UK. This will give operators like the National Grid a very good view over the energy network. They will be able to see nationwide consumption data as it happens and they will be able to monitor energy use in real time, based on immediate data rather than historic patterns of use. This means that they will be able to quickly alter supply to meet demand more efficiently.  This is one of the most useful examples of Internet of Things in action. And it will make energy cheaper and the UK greener. It could also lead to more efficient models of pricing. Currently, unless you are billed half-hourly for your energy costs then the price you pay for energy will be more or less flat no matter what time of day you’re plugged in. Because smart meters can collect better data, and because the National Grid has an interest in keeping energy consumption pretty ‘flat’ (so they’re not constantly powering generators up and down), suppliers could introduce different pricing tariffs to try and regulate demand. Obviously there will be some energy demand that can’t be put off – but a lot of businesses could regulate their demand so it is more flexible. Manufacturers and workshop-based businesses, for example, could put off their most energy-hungry processes to a time when gird demand is lower. For more information about the possibilities of smart metering, read our guide to saving money with smart meters.

Published by Utility Helpline on (modified )