It seems like we’ve been talking about ‘smart grids’ — electricity distribution systems with the flexibility to balance inputs from intermittent renewables with base-load electricity from conventional power stations — for years.

It seems like we’ve been talking about ‘smart grids’ — electricity distribution systems with the flexibility to balance inputs from intermittent renewables with base-load electricity from conventional power stations — for years, but the UK’s first smart grid has just been installed on the Orkney distribution network. It’s a logical place to start: situated where the North Sea meets the Atlantic, Orkney is home to Europe’s only grid-connected marine power testing site, and the low-lying, tree-free islands are regularly scoured by strong winds, making it ideal for wind power.

It seems that smart grids are very much a regional innovation, each one tailored to the needs of their city or area, so we’re likely to see them being setting up piecemeal. With plans for the UK’s future power mix now beginning to firm up, the next decade should see smart grids advancing across the country.

But the vital component for a smart grid is at the domestic level — the smart meter, which both allows people to see how much energy they are using, and tells the electricity company how much to bill them, without the need for always-inaccurate estimated bills or those visits for the meter reader, always timed so that you’re either at work or in the bath. But the government, utilities and meter manufacturers are still wrangling over precisely what features a meter will need. Futurescope thinks these discussions need to be hurried along, so the distribution grid can finally be remodelled for a low-carbon future.

Stuart Nathan
Special Projects Editor