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.

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