Smart meters: are they the answer to big bills?  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The Independent has a look at smart meters in the UK and how they can help people cut down on their energy bills - Smart meters: are they the answer to big bills?.

With energy bills at a record high, millions of Britons may be worrying about how they are going to pay to heat and power their homes this winter. Cutting back on energy use is one way to limit the financial damage of wintertime, but so few of us know where to start. This is where the new generation of "smart meters" can come in.

A smart meter is a small wireless transmitter that receives signals from your gas and electricity meter about your energy use. This information is then forwarded to a portable display that can be prominently placed in the home, which can be read by the customer. The idea is that if you can clearly and easily see how much energy you are using and how much it is costing then it should prompt a change of behaviour. In other words, customers will become more energy-conscious and this in turn will see them take steps to reduce their power bills. "Smart meters will help people understand energy better. Standard meters were hidden away in a cupboard not telling you much, but smart meters can show you how much you are saving by turning down the thermostat in an instant. In addition, smart meters make deals more transparent – if you can see your pattern of energy use, you can see what tariff suits your needs," said Marian Spain, director of strategy at the Energy Saving Trust.

A trial of smart metering is being conducted by EDF, E.ON, Scottish and Southern Energy and ScottishPower, with 23,000 homes involved, said Ofgem, the energy market regulator. The trial lasts until August 2010 and a nationwide roll out is then on the cards, as the Government has said that it would like to see smart meters in all homes by 2020. "This is an ambitious target as it will be a big job to get these meters in 27 million homes," said Scott Byrom, a spokesman for the price-comparison website Moneysupermarket.com. "One major point in its favour is that it's actually cheaper for the providers long-term as they can read these smart meters remotely, which means they won't have to pay someone to go to their customers' homes."

However, one energy provider, First Utility, has struck out on its own and started installing the meters in homes and businesses of all new customers. And in these recession-haunted, financially stretched times the idea of being able to take more control over energy bills obviously appeals. First Utility says that it has installed 5,000 smart meters since September, and the pace of installation is quickening as winter approaches.

A one-off £49 installation fee is charged, but savings soon start to be made.

The Energy Saving Trust reckons that the gadget can help knock 5 per cent off the average household energy bill. That equates to an annual savings of between £50 and £70. The theory is that those who use a smart meter would be more inclined to make energy saving decisions such as insulating their lofts, turning down their thermostats and switching appliances off rather than leaving them on standby. The meters can also help reduce inaccurate billing – a big bugbear among consumers. This is because, since the meters can be read remotely by providers, bill accuracy is assured.

Terrapass has more on smart meters, noting that measuring your home energy usage can save all kinds of things - Is everything off ?.
There’s a lot written these days about the coming boom in home energy monitoring devices and systems. Eventually, we hope to see smart meters that dynamically adjust home energy use to conditions within the home and on the grid.

Nobody in the room? Turn off the lights. Too much demand on the grid? Turn down the AC.

But there’s a more basic step, which is simply letting people know how much their home is using at any given time. We’ve all heard of the way real-time feedback on miles per gallon can affect driving habits. I’m becoming convinced that the same will shortly be true of how we use energy at home.

We installed a home Power Cost Monitor about a month ago. This isn’t a perfect read on home energy use, because it only monitors our electricity usage, but it’s been a great first step. Installation takes only a few minutes (basically you just strap the sensor onto the standard meter used by the local utility take a reading, then calibrate the sensor to the handheld wireless device). Then the fun starts.

Another way of reducing fuel bills and increasing energy efficiency is cogeneration - Marketing Week reports that British Gas has released a consumer grade combined heat and power (CHP) unit - British Gas boosts micro-energy strategy with eco boiler launch.
Utility giant British Gas is launching the UK's first micro-combined heat (micro-CHP) boiler in the consumer market. The utility company will market it as a unit that can generate electricity and as a result heat, therefore helping to make savings on energy bills and cut CO2 emissions by 20%.

The boiler will be available from 2009, and will join a portfolio of "microgeneration" products that the company plans to market next year. British Gas has signed a distribution deal with its maker, Baxi Group.

British Gas launched a range of wind turbines and solar panels to allow consumers to generate their own energy in March this year. The products can now be installed without planning permission after changes in legislation that came into force on April 6. The company is also launching smart meters, which tell consumers how much energy they are using.

The utility giant says about 1.5 million boilers are replaced every year in the UK. It forecasts the new boiler could take up to 30% of the market.

The BBC reports on a group calling for both smart meters and decentralised generation, though one of their tactics is a bit on the "big brother" end of the spectrum, calling for mandatory energy efficiency inspections of dwellings - Think tank calls for 'home MOTs'.
The government's science think tank has proposed that homes in the UK should have regular MOT-type energy check ups. The think tank, Foresight, is to release a report suggesting a number of radical ways to meet the UK's green goals over the next 50 years.

The report calls for less centralised, more small-scale energy production. It will also suggests using "intelligent metering" in homes and businesses, to show the real-time costs of different types of energy.

Energy efficiency assessments of buildings - which account for half of all energy use - would also help meet the targets for CO2 emissions.

The report says that the UK is "locked-in" to using certain forms of energy, and leading energy experts say that radical solutions are needed if the UK is to diversify its energy use, to meet its target of reducing CO2 emissions by 2020.

Buildings account for about half the country's energy use - and so should be the government's main focus in trying to reduce CO2 emissions. But it has had limited success in persuading businesses and home owners to become more energy efficient.

The Foresight report says this is down to inertia. Customers and suppliers they say are locked in to centralised energy production and inefficient consumption.

The report calls for incentives to encourage greener local energy production and more effective measures to get consumers to use less energy.

Options put forward include intelligent metering which show the true cost of gas and electricity and more regular energy efficiency assessments of homes and businesses, which the report describes as "an MOT for buildings".

One last article from the UK, The Guardian reporting on plans to build wind farms on top of old coal mines - UK Coal to build wind farms on old collieries.
Over a dozen of the UK's former coalmining sites are to be redeveloped as wind farms under a revolutionary energy scheme to turn old energy into new.

UK Coal, once the main part of the National Coal Board, has unveiled a joint venture with Peel Energy that would see 14 old colliery locations used to erect 54 turbines generating around 133MW of electric power.

The company, which has already moved into renewables through the harnessing of methane gas for power, was unwilling to say which of the 14 sites are currently earmarked for early submission for planning permission but says it hopes to have some approved within three months.

Peel Energy already boasts an onshore wind portfolio in excess of 450MW already and is involved in England's largest scheme at Scout Moor in Lancashire which has 26 turbines.

2 comments

Planning - I'm fairly sure that Marketing Week is wrong about the planning permission bypass! Solar PV and thermal, as well as ground source heat pumps and biomass boilers, are now permitted; but *not* wind turbines yet, nor air source heat pumps, due to the exterior visual impact. Of course, Conservation Areas are also ruled out (if facing a public road) and they seem to cover every village around here!

Planning is one of the things that is severely strangling renewable energy developments in UK - not to mention building efficiency renovations as well. Villagers have had virtual wars over the *wrong kind of window latches* - the insanely over-zealous heritage brigade will damn well keep us in 1752 until hell freezes over (or more likely, until the Arctic melts)....

Good point - I'd forgotten about UK conservation areas (I used to live in one in Richmond for a year and the house was freezing in winter).

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