It’s a gas – again

As an individual who has recently been put to a considerable amount of grief simply to provide my quarterly gas-meter reading to my power company in order that they could then calculate how much I owed them, I can’t wait for the day when a smart meter is eventually installed in my house so that I will never be asked to go through the procedure again.

So you can imagine how delighted I was to hear the news that a consortium of companies led by British Gas now plans to conduct a trial of the newfangled technology to test out what impact that so-called ‘low-carbon’ technologies such as electric cars and solar panels might have on the electricity grid.

Sadly, however, the proposed trial – worth some £54m – will only take place if the consortium of companies – including CE Electric UK, Durham University and EA, manage to extract some £28m of support from Ofgem’s Low Carbon Networks Fund to make it a reality.

Worse still, even if the folks at Ofgem do stump up the cash, the trial will only focus on areas in the northeast and Yorkshire. And while that might well put that region – and major cities such as Durham, Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield – at the forefront of the UK’s transition to a low-carbon society, it’s going to do very little to help me out, since I don’t live in that neck of the woods.

Even so, it all sounds like quite a good idea. At least it did when I first read about it. By installing photovoltaic panels, ground-source or air-source heat pumps, and combined heat and power boilers into houses and then equipping some households with electric vehicles, the consortium hopes to figure out what effect this might have on the electricity grid in the future.

But then I got to thinking. Do we really actually need to go to all this trouble to work out what will happen in such a case? And the conclusion that I reached was that the whole exercise might quite possibly be a waste of money.

You see, the folks that run the electricity grid already have pretty sophisticated systems that enable them to perform all sorts of real-time network monitoring and control tasks that help them run the grid efficiently, reliably and at the lowest possible cost.

So why not simply ask them to build a mathematical model on top of the existing control system that would simulate the effects of installing all this carbon-free technology into the home, and then examine the effect that it would have across the whole country? Such a simulation could be effectively performed without a single solar panel or smart meter ever being installed.

Then, instead of spending the money on the enormous number of consultants involved in the trial – consultants who will undoubtedly produce nothing more than self-evident conclusions – the cash could be more effectively put towards equipping every household in the country with a smart meter instead – including mine.