Two chief executives at the heart of the smart meter rollout, Angus Flett of the DCC and Dan Brooke of Smart Energy GB, reflect on a major milestone in the digitisation of Britain's energy system.
On Monday 1 February we saw the number of smart meters connected to the secure data network run by the Data Communications company (DCC) pass 10 million. It's a significant moment for everyone working on the smart rollout, and illustrates the progress being made to build a digital energy system fit for the future, which uses data to inform the grid, and maximise use of renewables. This landmark starts to give the rollout critical mass, and takes our nation further along the pathway towards the imperative of Net Zero carbon.
Smart meters are important. Millions more households are benefiting from accurate, not estimated, bills and the technology will open the door to much faster and smoother switching in future. Consumers are more aware of their energy consumption. But the deployment of smart meters at scale is about much more than saving money for individual households; it's also about how, between us, Government, consumers and industry can meet our challenging climate change targets.
New research shows that the 10 million smart meters connected to the secure network are preventing the release of up to 275,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions every year - that's the same level of emissions as 95,000 households, or a city roughly the size of Chester. Offsetting such emissions would require 1,300 hectares of new woodland to be planted. According to Government figures, the full rollout of smart meters will prevent 45 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions by 2034.
Since the start of 2020, the DCC secure network has tripled in size, from about 3.3m smart meters connected at that point to 10m today. All involved in the rollout - not least the energy companies and distribution network operators - have worked incredibly hard to adjust working practices in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, to ensure the safety of their staff and their consumers.
"Our target is 53m meters in homes and small businesses, so there's still a big job to do, but with our partners across the energy and technology sectors, we're going to get there."
Smart meters inform and enable a responsive, smart energy grid, allowing Britain to make the best possible use of renewable energy like wind and solar power. The energy revolution is gaining pace. From the Government's Energy White Paper to Ofgem's Decarbonisation Action Plan, the policy imperative is pointing in a clear direction. As a country we're making important progress towards reducing our reliance on oil and gas; the take-up of technologies like smart meters and electric vehicles will be central to the effort to create a greener future.
The benefits of smart energy meters are becoming increasingly substantial and we're working on harnessing their potential so people can live healthier and greener lives.
Recent research has started the debate on how smart meters could become a telehealth solution available to virtually every home in Britain within just a few years. With the consumer's consent, energy usage patterns from smart meters have the potential to make it easier and less stressful for family members who live apart to look after their relatives. This is just one example of the ways in which smart meters, and the secure network, can support innovation to deliver further public benefit.
"According to Government figures, the full rollout of smart meters will prevent 45 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions by 2034."
A rapid transition to electric vehicles will also have an enormous positive effect on reducing Britain's carbon emissions (personal transport accounts for a third of all emissions) and must become a centrepiece to the nation's climate change efforts. The existing smart metering network could act as the secure infrastructure necessary to support EV charging nationally. If consumers are confident in a reliable, consistent charging system that doesn't lock them into poor deals, they'll be more likely to choose an EV.
For a world in which millions of EVs are on the move in Britain - each one drawing down or offering back to the grid the amount of power used by an average household - we'll need a system that's digital, secure, and enables the grid to manage load intelligently, smoothing massive spikes in consumption at peak times and ensuring the necessary reserves are available, when power from intermittent renewable sources is sparse. Smart meters, and their network, can do that.
Monday's milestone was a moment to pause, thank partners, and take stock of the huge progress that's being made in the smart meter rollout, and the accelerating pace at which it's being delivered. Our target is 53m meters in homes and small businesses, so there's still a big job to do; but, with our partners across the energy and technology sectors, we're going to get there.
Smart meters and the secure smart network must play a critical role if we're serious about meeting our climate change ambitions and bequeathing a cleaner world to future generations.
CEO, Smart Energy GB
CEO, Data Communications Company
Find out more:
The smart meter benefits for Britain - From making Britain's energy system smarter, to helping the nation conserve energy.
How smart meters could transform health and social care - Find out how smart meter energy usage data could help care for vulnerable and elderly people, making it easier for them to live in their own homes for longer.
Powering the future with electric vehicles - What's the link between electric vehicles and smart meters?