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TSB funds 'smart' energy meter projects

Technology that allows consumers to control all the energy usage in their homes in one place is to gain from £3.8m in government funding.

Thirteen projects that integrate ‘smart’ energy meters with communications technology will receive money from the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) in partnership with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

The aim is to combine energy-usage data with central control of heating, household appliances and microgeneration, in order to enable consumers to more easily reduce energy waste and save money.

‘The technology for smart meters – which give us real-time information about how much energy we are using – already exists,’ said TSB chief executive Iain Gray.

‘The next step is for these smart meters to form part of smart home systems, where appliances are integrated, giving us much more control over energy usage.

The Energy Saving Trust (EST) is developing one of the projects as part of its own attempt to combine energy management with online payments, focusing particularly on low-income households that would benefit most from making clearer the link between specific energy-saving measures and how much money they save.

The six-month Smart Homes Integrating Meters Money Energy Research (SHIMMER) project will see around 20 homes in the East End of London fitted with solar panels and a sensor to read their energy usage from their normal electricity meter.

This information will then be transmitted to a server and the data made available online, linked to an online payment system such as Paypal.

‘There will be a graphic representation that is very easy to understand and that’s the key to it in these households,’ EST project manager Steven Harris told The Engineer.

‘It’s all part of money budgeting rather than encouraging people to save energy. It investigates the incentivisation you need.’

Participants will be given cheap laptops for the purposes of the project but the EST hopes that, in the future, the service could be made available through digital televisions or games consoles in order to open it up to more households.

The project is conducted in partnership with Easy Town CIC and London Rebuilding Society (LRS), which also aims to develop a system that could be used by those without a bank account, such as retired householders who collect their pension through the Post Office.

Customers who do not pay for their energy by direct debit and instead use a pre-paid meter are often penalised with higher tariffs. Although Paypal requires users to have a bank account, LRS sees the project as a pilot that could prove the concept of paying for energy outside of the mainstream banking system while managing the account online.

Could technology that is under trial in the US point the way for the deployment of smart grids in the UK? Click here to read more (subscription required).

Readers' comments (2)

  • It is not fair or logical to keep telling householders they need smart metering, and need to keep track of the energy they use. Out of the 300GW of total energy we use (and this excludes the energy used to create our imports), household electrical consumption is only about 20GW, so even if household consumption was halved, it would save us just 3% of our energy use.

    No, the answer lies in large scale renewable energy generation to replace fossil fuel use with electricity (everything we use fossil fuel for can be done with electricity except for aircraft).

    Large scale solar power stations are to be built in N Africa, and this is the only technology capable of supplying all our energy renewably at a reasonable price.

    It is true we will need smart grids if we are going to be electrically powered - but it needs a large increase in grid capacity, not just a smart grid.

    The large-scale solar power is being privately funded. It may or may not succeeed, but it is the only game in town that can do the necessary. Unless government takes this on board, and starts beefing up the power grid, we can look forward to power cuts and expensive and unreliable fossil fuel supplies for more decades to come.

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  • I'm getting very bored with this constant harping on about the supposed benefits of smart meters. I don't need a smart meter to tell me that I can switch things off or turn down thermostats, etc. - my own common sense tells me that. But on the other hand, the application of (free) common sense won't make profits for people manufacturing useless gadgets, will it?

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