Image from Energy Saving Trust 'The Smart way to Display'

Guest post by Tara West on behalf of renewable energy company, Good Energy

In 2014 energy suppliers in the UK will begin the lengthy process of installing smart meters in every home and small business throughout the country.

The government, which set out plans for this ambitious programme in March 2011, are confident that the rollout will allow consumers to cut down energy consumption and save money as a result.  Why? Because the meters provide accurate information about how much energy is used and when, without the need for a human meter reader, and sends accurate bills based on this data.

The energy industry are already planning to deliver the promise of smart meters for 30 million households and businesses, but can we be sure that the devices will be intelligent enough to actually do what the government wants them to do?

One of the first issues that need to be addressed is the fear that consumers could be exploited during the installation. This has been addressed by proposing that no sales will be undertaken during this time and no marketing activity around meter deployment will take place without consumer permission prior to the visit.

However, the biggest issue relates to apprehension about privacy and data access. Existing data protection rules would enforce that energy companies could only use data from the smart meters for the purpose intended and the Government has defined the purpose as billing or regulatory purposes. If suppliers want to use the information for anything else they would have to get the customers permission from the customer beforehand.

The worry is that smart meters may not deliver much beyond energy usage to customers, despite their ambition to reduce carbon emissions. Most of us are too busy to permanently be thinking about how much  energy we are using so allowing smart meters systems to work as a cohesive smart energy network would be a more efficient way of decarbonising our energy sources – by  letting smart meters work together to optimise usage according to real time.

Additionally, a smart metering system for households that use solar panels as a form of green energy needs to be able to enhance usage of their own power before taking power it the grid. This infrastructure would result in effective and efficient energy consumption.

Manage energy use in a smarter fashion, particularly in each neighbourhood, and this will mean a smaller carbon footprint, as well as less of a need for network upgrades and any inconvenience they entail. However, for this to happen, energy companies need access to real time smart meter data, which seems a long way off.

Finally, there is a need for the energy regulator, Ofgem, to ensure that it does not take a ham-fisted approach to simplifying energy tariffs. As its current proposals in this area stand, they will severely undermine the development of the type of energy tariffs that will mean bill savings for consumers if they use their energy in a certain way.

Tariff simplification must not close the door to the kind of more responsive energy market that consumers will come to expect in a ‘smarter’ world. The government is taking a step in the right direction.

The new smart meters will lead to changes for consumers who choose to use the data, which will ultimately reduce consumption. Just receiving bills based on actual usage will be beneficial, particularly as energy prices increase alongside fossil fuel prices.

Having said this, if as part of this rollout a smarter energy system was being put in place, it would mean we would be ever closer to the where we need to be. Smart meters can always do with being smarter!