Why Smart Meters are Important for the Net Zero Target

Smart meters are no longer new to people. Most of us have heard about how smart meters can help us to be more efficient in the home through monitoring our energy usage. What is less understood is the benefit that smart meters can bring to the grid as a whole.

If we’re going to prevent a climate catastrophe it is vital that we reach the net zero carbon emissions target. The only way we are going to do this is by generating more green energy and being much smarter about how we use it. The technologies we use to help monitor and control our energy consumption are set to play a critical role in the fight against climate change.

The number of smart meters being installed in the UK has surged in recent times. Despite the pandemic slowing the rate of installations there were still 3.8 million smart meters installed in 2021 and the uptake of smart meters is likely to increase as consumers deal with the ongoing surge in energy prices. 

Smart meters are a key part of the clean energy system of the future. They will be an indispensable tool in the development of a more sustainable future. As they become more widespread, they’re likely to have a radical effect on energy use in the UK. Customers and businesses will have more insight into their energy use than ever before which will reduce waste, cut bills and help to drive industry innovation. 

If you have a smart meter installed at home one of the first things, you will notice is how easy it is to see how much energy you are using and how much it is costing you. Because smart meters give you real-time data on your energy use, you can see how your energy consumption rises and falls and therefore make informed decisions about how and when you buy energy. Knowing how much energy is being used every day can also really help you to cut down which means you are reducing your carbon emissions as well.  You might decide to swap your bulbs for energy saving LEDs, use the tumble dryer less, batch cook food, turn off appliances before going to bed or to insulate your home. Whatever you do you’ll quickly be able to see if you’re using less energy.

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It’s when you add up all the small changes that everyone in the UK makes to their daily routine that you can see how this could be important to reaching the net zero goal. If 10 million households were to do something as simple as only boiling the amount of water, they need for their morning brews instead of overfilling the kettle it would significantly cut the amount of fossil fuels that the UK needs to burn.

Smart meters aren’t just about saving energy at home. Currently, energy suppliers and the National Grid don’t have a full and accurate picture of consumer energy demand. They know how much consumers are using between meter readings, and they can estimate daily and yearly peaks and troughs, but this unclear picture can lead to energy being wasted. Smart meters lead to a more accurate view of exactly when energy is being used and where which means that energy suppliers and the grid will know in more detail how much energy to buy and sell. Not only does this allow for energy generation and transmission to become much more efficient but it helps the grid to incorporate a higher percentage of renewable electricity. 

Things are set to improve even further as by 2025 the frequency in which smart meters transmit their data to the energy companies will increase to every half an hour to help to provide a larger picture of the country’s energy usage.

Let’s look at an example of how smart meters can help in the future. Electric vehicles are going to become increasingly commonplace on our roads which will mean that the amount of electricity needed to charge them will also increase. If everyone arrives home at the same time and plugs in their vehicles, this will place a peak demand on the electricity grid and potentially lead to extra generation from fossil fuels being needed. This is something we all want to avoid. This is where smart meters can make a significant difference as they have the potential to spread out this kind of intensive demand so that green energy can be used throughout. Most vehicles won’t need to be fully charged until the following morning, so there’s no need to charge every car in the shortest time. In the future, you might tell your car or an app your driving needs, and it would communicate with your smart meter to ensure green energy is being used to charge your vehicle without creating a peak in demand.

Furthermore, there’s the potential to be paid to use your EV battery as energy storage, where the National Grid could take energy back from your vehicle in order to meet high demand and replace it later.

We’ve talked a lot about what smart meters mean for households, but businesses will benefit from the technology too. Smart meters can provide more detailed insights into a business’ energy usage, allowing suppliers to offer that business bespoke tariffs based on their actual energy requirements. This means businesses will get better deals and prices, but also makes things easier for suppliers by providing greater certainty around their customers’ energy demands.

Apart from helping businesses and households to consume their energy more efficiently, the extensive growth in the installation of smart meters has the potential to unlock a level of untouched energy efficiency in the form of a smart energy grid.

Smart grids are different to traditional grids as they use different technologies, such as smart meters, sensors and networks to increase the level of intelligence and efficiency at which the grid operates.

A smart grid will mean that operators will be able to balance the flow of energy more efficiently throughout the grid. This is vital if we are to be more sustainable. With the help of the grid’s sensors and meters, operators will be able to detect power demand surges and outages in real-time and adapt accordingly to ensure efficiency.

Furthermore, smart grids can enable the smooth integration of renewable energy sources, such as solar panels. Better energy infrastructure will allow operators to effectively manage different renewable energy sources that are geographically spread across the grid. In addition to that, smart grids will enable providers to let energy consumers play a central role in the grid by selling extra energy storage they might have at home.

Whether it’s reducing the amount of energy wasted or helping the grid become truly responsive smart meters are essential components for the creation of a greener energy network that can maximise use of renewable energy sources as well as help us reach our net zero carbon emissions target by 2050.

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