Claire Maugham, director of policy and communications at Smart Energy GB, gives an overview of the 2016 autumn party conference season.

Falling immediately after an eventful summer for British politics, this year’s autumn party conference season was one of a kind.

For Smart Energy GB, conference season is a chance to talk to elected representatives from all around the country to help them answer their consituents’ questions – and to talk to them about their own views on smart meters and digitisation of the retail energy market.

The need to digitise an analogue energy infrastructure remains as clear as ever in the minds of politicians from all parties, and cross-party recognition of the vital role of smart technology for a greener and smarter Britain remains strong.

Government ministers continued to advocate for the far-reaching importance of one of the biggest infrastructure projects this administration is responsible for delivering, while Labour continued to champion a smart energy system and the decentralisation of energy, with support for smart meters shared across the opposition front bench.

At Conservative Party conference our fringe panel discussion with BEIS minister for small business and consumers, Margot James, and former ECC select committee member James Heappey, explored the role of smart meters in enabling smarter energy grids, connected homes, the internet of things, and a market of engaged, energy-savvy consumers.

On the Labour fringe, we brought together local leaders from Glasgow and Liverpool, each discussing how smart energy is at the centre of their initiatives to become smarter cities and help their residents in fuel poverty. Discussion focused on the opportunities for local communities and councils both to get involved in generating their own power, and to use smart energy data to innovate in a wide range of services beyond energy – including healthcare.

At the SNP’s conference, our panel of leading voices on consumer protection and inclusion discussed how smart meters could put consumers at the heart of energy policy. From students in rented housing to those in need of financial guidance, it was great to see the rollout discussed as an opportunity to empower households.

The long-term national goals of digitisation in creating a smarter and greener Britain remain front of mind for policy-makers, alongside a growing recognition of the importance of energy as a force for local innovation. Our conversations ranged far beyond the immediate benefits of smart meters, to the wider benefits a digitised energy industry will bring – from flexible energy tariffs, to smart, informed approaches to managing our national demand for energy. Whatever uncertainties lie ahead for the British economy, the importance of smart meters as an enabler for a smarter economy and the vital role of digitisation are clear.

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