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Smart meters and local authorities

Stephen Passmore, technical delivery manager at the Energy Saving Trust, explains how smart metering can cut costs for local authorities and make public buildings more energy efficient.

The old adage – if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it – often rings true. Local authorities will now be getting a sharper, more accurate tool to manage their rising energy costs.

Smart meters, the next generation of gas and electricity meters, are likely to play a vital role in the UK energy market in the future – and could provide significant savings to local authorities as they increasingly look to make their buildings more energy efficient. A nationwide smart meter roll-out is set to begin in 2014, and by 2019 every UK home and organisation will have one installed within the property.

So what is a smart meter? And, perhaps more importantly, what benefits will the smart meter roll-out provide to local authorities, both from a cost and environmental perspective?

Smart meters collect information about energy use from the premises electronically, measuring this in the same way as a traditional gas or electricity meter.

However, they also have a communication capability, a bit like the SIM card in a mobile phone, which allows data to be read remotely by the supplier and displayed on a suitable device for any households or organisations, or transmitted securely externally.

Depending on their supplier, local authorities will be able to access their accurate consumption and cost information in a number of ways, such as an online portal or a display on the premises. This will provide real-time information on how much gas and/or electricity is being used in pounds and pence, as well as in units of energy. Of course this technology serves to complement existing energy management systems local authorities have in place for the larger buildings and schools within their estate.

Additionally this accurate information will help in empowering local authority staff to practise energy-saving behaviours – even on top of those already being undertaken. Knowing how much energy is being used and when can help local authorities to encourage staff to adjust their energy consumption. If the Government predictions of annual bill reductions between £24 and £190 by 2020 are realised, then there are financial savings to be made by all energy customers. The smart meter roll-out can be a catalyst for renewed employee engagement on energy issues with lots of innovative approaches available to support more energy efficient behaviours.

Smart meters will enable local authorities to have greater control over the amount of energy they use. The devices will mean accurate energy bills for all customers (domestic and business), based on the exact energy used and not an estimate. This means an end to holding excessive debt, or surplus against the energy account and simply paying for what is used.

Moreover, UK Government expects smart meters to help suppliers better understand their customers, and to design products and services to meet their needs. This could include new tariff structures, such as time-of use tariffs, that will reward customers that are more flexible and can shift their consumption from costly (and more carbon intensive) ‘peak’ to off-peak times.

The UK Government recognises that energy customers are finding it hard to take informed action to reduce their domestic energy consumption (and thereby bills and carbon emissions) unless there is accurate and timely information available. This is needed to help improve the efficiency of the energy network.

These are the main reasons for committing to the roll-out of smart meters in properties across the UK.

As with any new technology, independent advice and guidance will be required so all energy customers can understand how it works, how they use it and its potential benefits.

At the same time, there is a need to provide ongoing advice so customers continue to adopt energy saving behaviours alongside this new technology.

At the Energy Saving Trust it’s widely recognised that you can’t have energy efficient buildings without energy efficient occupants.

The benefits of the smart meter roll-out are clear for local authorities, with the issue of control being especially relevant.

As a result of accurate energy bills, local authorities will have more control over budgeting, be better equipped to make investment decisions and will be able to manage their energy costs more effectively through tariffs designed to fit the local authority’s needs.

In addition, the real-time accurate information can empower local authorities to be more energy efficient, not only saving money but also helping to fulfil wider sustainability goals.

It’s clear that the smart meter roll-out can be win-win for local authorities.


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