Over the past 12 months, smart meters have come in for increasing criticism. While various issues associated with the rollout have contributed to an unfavourable shift in public opinion, smart meters still hold an intrinsic value for individual consumers as well as a much wider value in terms of national infrastructure. This value should not be overlooked.
The rollout campaign has focused on demonstrating how much smart meters will save each bill payer. Measuring energy usage allows more accurate billing, which means consumers never overpay, as can happen when they are billed according to estimates. While smart meters can help customers reduce their bills in many other ways too, smart metering is fundamentally about much more than just saving money.
It is a vital step in developing the UK’s National Grid. The data collected by smart meters provides insights that allow the grid to match supply and demand better, which dramatically improves its operational efficiency. A deeper understanding of energy demand allows for a reactive – and more importantly, decentralised – grid.
Centralised generation requires a lot of electricity just to move the energy to wherever it needs to be, whereas decentralised networks serve their local areas. Crucially, decentralisation also favours renewable energy generation. Smart meters are therefore an essential first step in streamlining the grid and facilitating the widespread use of renewable energy sources. The smart meter rollout sets an excellent precedent for government commitment to national infrastructure development.
On a far smaller scale, smart meters can provide value to individual consumers. They allow consumers to recognise patterns in their own data and make decisions accordingly. Smart home devices are beginning to use this data to provide really valuable insight to consumers. Howz, for example, uses this data to give users insights into their health. Perhaps an older user of Howz has started having the heating on longer than they used to, or movement sensors suggest they might not be moving around the home as much – this could signal increasing frailty or a deterioration in health. Other smart home devices build up patterns of data usage such as when household members are most likely to want the heating on (and the device will switch it on for them), or when a curling iron has been left on that needs switching off.
The application of data analytics will have a profound effect if we learn to take control of it ourselves and apply it in ways that are genuinely useful. Smart metering is far more important than just saving us money on our energy bills.