Small-scale funding, large-scale potential: inside the UK’s smart metering projects
Could a generation of new projects help deliver more effective smart meters for energy management in the UK? Giles Crosse investigates.
he UK Government recently announced around $246,311 (£200,000) in funding for five projects that aim to bring smart technology to energy monitoring and management.
The hope is to give UK individuals, and indeed corporations, better control over their energy usage, and thereby manage the UK's net-zero energy transition more sustainably. Politically, this is likely tied into rising energy bills and the geopolitics surrounding the situation in Ukraine too.
These research and investment moves come just as the UK seeks to smarten its overall approach to personal energy management, by scaling up grid-scale demand flexibility services too, rolling out its first payments in this space.
It all demonstrates how the country aims to become a leader in responsive energy, that matches how keenly the wind blows with how intelligently energy use is turned up or down. All in all, a quiet revolution is on the cards, but it's one that still faces major challenges.
The somewhat confusingly-named Smart Meter System-based Internet of Things (IoT) Applications Programme aims to support innovation in the sector. Teams from the University of Exeter, the University of Salford and Green Energy Options, alongside joint ventures including N3rgy Data and Octopus, will develop the projects, which will demonstrate the feasibility, and trial the efficacy, of smart meters, which rely on IoT processes, to drive the responsive energy revolution.
In practice, such technology closely resembles an innovative ’smart hub’ device to enable a more flexible demand-side response (DSR). This enables households to vary their electricity usage to reduce domestic bills and protect the grid from peaks and troughs in usage and supply.
With consumer consent, this device would transfer data from distributed in-home sensors and from the household’s smart meter, securely via the smart metering system’s Data Communications Company network to the DSR provider.
"Other essential technology in development includes an energy data service platform, to verify consent to access temperature data and gas consumption data from smart gas meters."
Other essential technology in development includes an energy data service platform, to verify consent to access temperature data and gas consumption data from smart gas meters. This process accesses the smart meter system as an “other user,” an authorised party other than an energy supplier.
Further efforts seek new cloud-connected secure smart meter gateway devices, that access real-time energy data from smart meters and send that data to a designated cloud service.
The key element to understand is that neither the flexible grid nor DSR can succeed in isolation. A monumental amount of infrastructure has to work reliably, every moment of the day, to balance power derived from renewables and fossil fuels and variable demand.
The future, today
The third partner in all this work is the National Grid. To deliver responsive energy, a combination of political clout, the right corporate tech and partners, and the cabling and subsystems across the country, run by National Grid, need to work in tandem.
The National Grid says that initial data is encouraging. Metrics from the first UK demand flexibility 'events' appear positive. During the first test, participants delivered a 50% increase in electricity reduction compared to expectation and across the second test, participants reduced their electricity use by 35% more than expected.
On 23 January, the National Grid initiated the first live demand flexibility event, which had huge support. Data from this is forthcoming and could demonstrate the viability of the process in the long-term.
"On 23 January, the National Grid initiated the first live demand flexibility event, which had huge support."
The National Grid cites a business example in Powerlifter Fitzgerald. The company, usually in the late afternoon or early evening, ends manufacturing hours of operation early to reduce power consumption. Staff appear happy to have a shorter workday and did more of the manufacturing faster and earlier, so there was no loss in productivity.
The demand flexibility events have enabled the company to earn around $61.6 (£50) and saved around $6.2 (£5) off their energy bill each time.
Powerlifter Fitzgerald director, Pollyanna Robinson, says: “The experience has shown what is easy to turn off and how we can be more energy efficient generally, helping to keep costs down across the next year. Demand flexibility is also helping Powerlifter Fitzgerald to deliver their net-zero strategy.”
From a sustainability perspective, the UK Government has the right idea to modernise for responsive, more efficient energy, but its premise will of course require corporate partners.
A couple of years ago, for example, Landis+Gy, a provider of integrated energy management solutions for the utility sector, and Vodafone Business announced a new IoT strategic global agreement. The partnership would allow Landis+Gy customers to connect their smart meters and smart grid applications to over 400 networks in 180 countries using Vodafone Business’ IoT services.
“IoT is key to the digitalisation of the utilities sector,” Vinos Kumar, Vodafone Business CEO, said. “Connecting assets will help manage energy better and support the safe integration of renewable energy sources into power grids, helping to reduce carbon footprints.
“We believe [IoT] will enable more and more companies to be not only more resilient and future-ready, but also more sustainable.”
"We believe [IoT] will enable more and more companies to be not only more resilient and future-ready, but also more sustainable."
The National Grid's Operability Report 2023 says by 2030, the grid system is expected to have 25GW to 45GW of within-day flexibility, mainly from smart charging of electric vehicles, smart domestic appliances and battery storage with duration of a few hours.
The picture is this; the UK's power balance will shift to energy flexibility. But the National Grid's report admits timelines for the market arrangements, consumer incentives, technology roll-outs and data provisioning are not currently clear.
But the system need for this capability might arise before the market is fully able to provide it. If necessary, the National Grid will bridge gaps between stages by creating temporary alternative mechanisms to help price signals get through to new providers of flexibility.
This much is clear; a fundamental change in how the UK energy system operates is on the way. Companies and homes are being invited to trial out managing and turning down their energy use, and the technology is being built out.
The simple challenge is time. The National Grid says it will be integrating newer technologies right across the system, from large scale off-shore wind, to domestic scale solar panels, to increased demand side participation. Can it all be done in time to hit UK net-zero targets?
// Main image: Meter on radiator. Credit: Viktor Kintop via Shutterstock
Internet of Things