British Gas leads electricity smart meter project

2 min read

British Gas is leading a £54m project that will install smart meters in 14,000 homes in the north east of England and test how micro-generation and electric vehicles impact upon the electricity grid.

The project, which also includes participation from CE Electric UK, Durham University and EA Technology, aims to lay the foundations for helping British homes and businesses slash their carbon footprint, reduce energy use and potentially save on electricity bills.   

If successful, British Gas claims the knowledge gained from the project could speed up the installation of low-carbon technology, potentially saving homes and businesses across the UK around £8bn in energy costs and 43 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

The consortium is asking up to 14,000 homes in the north east and Yorkshire area to volunteer for the study. Each home will be equipped with a smart meter, while some will trial a number of low-carbon technologies.

British Gas is currently in discussion with industry giants such as GE, Panasonic and Nissan to join the consortium. Their participation could help install solar PV panels in up to 800 homes, provide 150 participants with electric cars and up to 1,500 residences with either ground-source or air-source heat pumps. Some homes may also be installed with combined heat and power boilers.

Petter Allison, director of smart metering for British Gas’s parent company Centrica, said the smart meters in each participant’s home will send substations dynamic data on the amount of electricity being consumed and generated.

This means the substation can better react to increased demand for electricity when, say, three electric vehicles on a single street plug in to charge up. It will also know when additional electricity is being generated onto the grid.

Allison said a network company’s typical remedy to an overstressed grid is putting more cable in the ground.

He added that the project will be looking at alternatives: ‘Is there a way we can get consumers to consume in a way that doesn’t stress the network so much?’

Allison said one idea being considered by British Gas is putting in a ‘time-of-use tariff’ that would offer incentives to customers not to consume at certain times of the day. Another alternative, he said, is considering whether certain homes should be considered for microgeneration installations.

The total project is valued at £54m with CE Electric UK and its partners seeking £28m from Ofgem’s Low Carbon Networks Fund, the UK energy regulator’s £500m financial support mechanism for smart grid projects. A decision by Ofgem is expected by the end of the year.

Smart grids are set to become an increasingly important part of the energy infrastructure as the UK increases its electricity generation from renewables.

Climate secretary Chris Huhne announced the government expects more than half of new energy-generating capacity built in the UK by 2025 to come from renewable sources.

Without smart grids, such a reliance on renewable sources, which produce variable amounts of energy, would introduce instability into the national electricity network.

While the issue of balancing national supply and demand is important, Allison said this is not the initial focus of the smart grid project in the north east.

‘At this point we are much more focused on the local distribution,’ he said.  

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).