Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) have mandated that all domestic and non-domestic premises are to enjoy the benefits of both smart electricity and gas meters across Great Britain. The government’s vision is driven by a need to move to a low-carbon economy and, in turn, help Britain in its role of providing an affordable and sustainable energy supply, whilst addressing issues with longer-term energy needs.
Our energy footprint
In other words, we all have to be aware of our energy footprint, since our zealous consumption and ‘taken for granted’ attitude has brought about a realisation that this energy stuff isn’t endless.
So, in short, the smart metering ‘ball’ has firmly been pushed and is building up momentum as we head toward the 2020 milestone – DECC aim to achieve that by 2020 most, if not all, premises across Britain will have a smart meter installed and, as consumers and suppliers, we will have access to near real-time information about energy use within our home or business.
Near real-time information about your energy use
Smart meters are hailed as the next generation technology that will replace older (analog) stock with a new set of intelligent features that will benefit domestic and non-domestic consumers alike. I’m not sure why, but the Poet Laurette, Carol Ann Duffy, is set to write an ode to the old-fashioned gas and electricity meters in an homage to the mechanical whirring that has resonated our basements for almost 100 years (source: BBC News). Anyway, as I mull over this greenish and ‘let’s reduce our energy consumption,’ mantra I can’t help but wonder who will this technology ultimately benefit?
In a usual David versus Goliath paradigm, we are typically faced with Goliath, that is, the ‘Big Six’ (the energy suppliers) versus ‘Joe Blog’ our ordinary consumer (David) – it might be cliché, but it’s so true and here’s why…
We all know that we will foot the bill!
Let’s start with the suppliers. You see, they are ultimately responsible for rolling out the smart metering technology in our homes and businesses across Great Britain at their own expense, in addition to providing each consumer an In-home Display (IHD). I know, that they know, we all know, we will indirectly foot this bill despite energy prices falling over the last six months or so.
I also know collectively that the ‘Big Six’ are sometimes known affectionately as ‘thieving robbing bast**ds,’ with their year-on-year increase in profits. They consistently pillage our already over-drafted overdrafts and, with a possible buyer of Tata Steel exclaiming that Britain has the highest cost of energy in the world, it seems we might need to seek that alternate energy supply after all.
All that Big Data
But I have an ever-so tiny modicum of empathy with the ‘Bix Six’, since they will take the brunt of delivering DECC’s vision across Great Britain, although my heart doesn’t entirely bleed, since our inglorious ‘Big Six’ will have access to a wealth of data. In particular, I refer to the Internet of Things (IoT) and the associated ‘Big Data’ stories that often beleaguer our ‘tech-news’ headlines.
What I mean is that the ‘Big Six’ will certainly collate or harvest data that could be regarded as ‘profiling’ and I do wonder how such data will be used. For example, I’m sure you are already aware how your Internet Service Provider (ISP) currently collates data about your Internet use and what websites you visit, along with capturing information about the type of devices that are connected to your router. Well, suppliers, in a similar manner, will draw upon how you consume electricity within your home, that is, when you use your appliances, computers and other devices as well as your hot water and heating. In short, they will have a profile of you and your energy habits.
Stop using too much energy!
DECC and the energy suppliers also wish to limit ‘spiking’ across the grid. For example, when a popular TV programme is broadcast, we habitually run to the kitchen during the adverts and put the kettle on. Inevitably, this causes an often unprecedented demand on the grid, which has to be immediately accommodated and is incredibly costly to do. You see, it is more cost effective for the national grid and likewise the suppliers to have a levelled or steady consumption use and avoid spontaneous peaks in demand.
As such, there is a feature in the second generation smart metering technology, namely Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specification v2 (SMETS2), which is described as ‘load limiting’. Now, whilst this feature exists in the specification, it has yet to be implemented, if at all. Nonetheless, the belief is that at some point suppliers may choose to place consumers onto favourable or unfavourable energy tariffs that may prohibit energy consumption during certain hours. Likewise, the not so favourable tariffs would see an increase in kWh for use in periods, which see typical spikes in energy use, for example. This feature explicitly attempts to balance energy consumption within the home or business and in instances where too many appliances or other electric devices are being used simultaneously, in which case the energy supply ceases. In other words, because you have consumed too much energy at a particular point in time, you are essentially cut-off.
Green, amber and red energy trafficking
So, let’s talk about David – you know, our ‘Joe Blog’ consumer. Now with accurate meter readings and billing, as well as attempting to stabilise energy use across Great Britain, suppliers also wish to empower consumers with a near real-time view of consumption within their home or business, placing them in charge of their energy use.
As such, suppliers provide their customers with In-home Displays (IHDs), which provide near real-time information about energy use within the home or business. A number of IHDs provide you with raw data about the use and cost of energy, along with a more simplified mechanism, which is akin to a traffic light technique. So, a green light naturally is a representation of, I suppose the ‘norm’ whilst an amber indication would represent more moderate usage. However, a red light would inevitably represent a higher energy use and should alert you as to what has been left on or perhaps needs to be turned off.
Essentially, suppliers want you to think about your consumption within your home or business and effectively empower you to not only reduce your consumption, but to be mindful of how and when you use energy.
Until next month…
I’m not sure how this energy malarkey across Great Britain really stacks up and who ultimately benefits from SMETS1 or indeed from the second generation technology, that is, SMETS2. Clearly, there are benefits to both parties, but I guess we won’t really understand them until 2020 when the roll-out of the technology is complete.
So, this is where a cautious Dr G signs off.
Originally published in Telecoms.