Meter plan requires smart thinking

1 min read

The government’s plans for all UK homes to be equipped with smart electricity meters by 2020 were loudly applauded this week. Not least by smart meter manufacturers, who are now eyeing up a potential market of 26 million households.

The claimed benefits are well-known. By enabling consumers to keep closer tabs on how much energy they’re using smart meters could help us all make more efficient use of electricity, thus keeping bills down and potentially reducing the UK’s carbon footprint.

But while the government has been loudly talking up the planet-friendly credentials of the technology, it is perhaps the benefits to the suppliers - who can use smart meters to more effectively manage peak loads as well as dispense with the cost of manual meter reading - that are the big drivers for a mass roll-out.

At best it’s a virtuous circle. Everybody’s happy. The suppliers reduce their costs, home-owners enjoy lower bills and CO2 emissions are reduced.

However, it is to be hoped that the enthusiasm of consumers isn’t undermined by an over-emphasis on the demands of the suppliers.

Talking to The Engineer earlier this year Tom Fryers, commercial director of energy management product developer Sentec, warned that the Energy Retail Association’s (ERA) proposals to fix precisely what data comes out of the meter and how it needs to be processed could dent the potential of the technology.

In the age of the iPhone, it’s not enough to simply a design a swanky-looking electricity meter. In order to really chime with consumers the technology must tune into our expectations of the fast-paced world of consumer electronic devices. It’s design and user interface must be easy and compelling to use and crucially, it must be upgradeable.

The smart electricity meter is potentially the gateway to a number of future functions - from using home-based renewable energy sources to sell electricity back to the grid, to detecting faulty appliances and enabling ever more sophisticated methods of domestic energy management. It would be a great shame if this opportunity was missed.

Jon Excell

Deputy Editor