How you could save energy by using it flexibly
As energy prices increase, we’re all trying to find more ways to use less energy in our homes, to reduce our bills as much as possible. And according to our research, one way we could reduce our bills is by being more flexible with the energy we use. Read on to find out how.
How are we being more flexible?
We carried out research to find out how the pandemic has changed the way we live and work. Our findings show that we are changing our daily habits to suit the new ‘normal’. Here are a few habits that we have changed over the past couple of years:
- 51% of us now usually watch TV on-demand, rather than live TV
- 90% of us are shopping online, rather than going to the shops
- Nearly 60% of us use mobile banking apps, instead of going to the bank
On top of all this, our working lives have become more flexible. Less people are travelling to work every day, as working from home has become more common.
But changing our habits doesn't stop there...
How can this flexibility help us reduce our energy bills?
Our research shows that 69% of people would like to be more flexible with how they use energy. Greener and more flexible energy use, enabled by smart meters, is on the horizon! As Great Britain moves toward a smarter and more flexible energy system, energy suppliers will be more capable to offer consumers who want them a time-of-use tariff.
Time-of-use tariffs offer different prices for energy at different times of the day.
So, you will find that energy is cheaper when energy demand is low, or when there is a high amount of renewable energy available.
For example, if you use your washing machine when there is a lot of renewable energy being produced (on windy or sunny days), or, if you charge your phone at night when less energy is being used by others, your energy could be cheaper.
These tariffs have been designed to help you be more flexible with your energy usage and could lead to significant cost savings.
And an added bonus? Even people who do not choose these tariffs will benefit! These tariffs will help reduce the demand for energy at busier times, to spread energy use throughout the day. This will enable more use of cheaper, greener, renewable energy sources.
How can being flexible help the environment?
Our research also found that over 80% of us want our energy to come from renewable sources instead of fossil fuels. Smart meters will help us to rely less on fossil fuels, thanks to the half-hourly meter readings they provide…
Half hourly meter readings mean that your smart meter could send a meter reading to your supplier every 30 minutes. The more often meter readings are provided, the better your energy supplier can understand and manage what energy is needed, and where. This means less energy waste, more renewable energy, and less carbon emissions. It will also enable energy suppliers to offer cheaper, greener, smarter and more flexible energy options to you.
Speaking on an independent basis, through Imperial Consultants, Dr Jeffrey Hardy, from Imperial College London, explains why more frequent meter readings, enabled by smart meters, are key to flexible energy use:
In the UK, we’re moving to a low carbon energy future. And if we want that future to be the most cost effective, then it’s going to have to also be smart and flexible. You need to be able to monitor what’s happening in homes, businesses and industry. One of the keys is smart meter data because they provide real-time information about what’s happening on the demand side. That means you can start to price energy dynamically. When renewables are really abundant energy should be really cheap. The car is charging when it’s at its cheapest. The heat pump is running, heating the home and keeping them comfortable on a schedule that suits the best prices. The smart and flexible energy system of the future, is the cheapest.
“This smart energy future might sound like it means a more complex relationship between people and energy, however, this isn’t likely the case. In my research I have shown that it this smart energy system is an opportunity for energy businesses to get to know their customers better. The rollout of smart meters, combined with other sources of data, means that energy businesses can understand what their customers want, need and value in terms of their energy usage. This provides the opportunity for energy suppliers to tailor the service they offer.”
What does flexibility mean for smart meter data?
Have you ever stopped to think what happens when you switch on the lights?
They just work right?
Well, there’s actually a lot more going on than you might think. Behind every switch we flick or dial we turn is a nationwide system that adapts flexibly to changes in supply and demand. Smart meters in homes are key to this, giving a detailed picture of our consumption to us and to our energy provider. The network that connects smart meters to energy suppliers is operated by the Data Communications Company, the DCC. The DCC network is the digital backbone of our energy system. It can reach more than 99% of properties, making it Britain’s largest data network. It’s already transformed meter readings, billing accuracy and top-ups. And it’s helping Britain save more than half a million tonnes of carbon emissions a year. The network operated to the highest security standards in Europe. It’s endorsed by the National Cybersecurity Centre, part of GCHQ, and operates entirely separately from the potential pitfalls of the public internet.
So how does it work?
Every time energy is used or generated in homes with smart meters, they turn it into a packet of data. The data is securely wrapped using two layers of encryption. A communications hub creates a home area network to receive the data from the smart meters. The hub transmits the data to an in-home display which shows how much energy is being used or sold back to the grid. The data is then transmitted from the home to a wide area network of mobile phone or radio masts and from these to the DCC servers. The DCC never sees or keeps the data. It transports it securely, straight to energy suppliers to access. They decrypt it so they can bill consumers accurately. The detailed consumption data also helps the whole system make the best use of energy, keeping the lights on and supporting Britain’s net-zero goals. This single network for everyone also makes it easier to switch suppliers. The network is monitored 24/7 by the DCC in its Security and Technical Operations Centre, where the team continuously checks its resilience, speed and security.
So why is this important?
Well, to make our homes more efficient, we’ll need more devices like solar panels, heat pumps and home energy storage. But to work really well, these devices depend on the data transmitted over the DCC network. For example, I want to charge my electric car using my solar panels if I can, but once it gets dark, I’ll need power from the grid. Informed by the data, the grid can act smart. So my car’s charged at a time when the electricity’s cheapest and renewable energy is used as far as possible. And whether I’m charging at home or at work, I want a fair, transparent deal for my energy and the ability to switch suppliers with ease. So the future’s here already with an intelligent, integrated digital energy system. At its heart, smart meters and the secure DCC network that supports them, making Britain more connected so we can all lead smarter, greener lives.
Case study: Grahame
Grahame lives in a four-bedroom detached house in West Lothian with his wife and two children and had his smart meter installed in February 2019. He is passionate about decarbonising his home, helping Great Britain to use energy more efficiently and sees time-of-use tariffs and smart meters as key to both these things.
“I wanted to get a smart meter fitted in 2019 to save me money and keep an eye on my energy use. I was really keen to decarbonise my lifestyle and I’ve taken steps since getting a smart meter to do that.”
Hi, my names Grahame and I live in Broxburn, West Lothian. I wanted to get a smart meter fitted in 2019 to save me money and keep an eye on my energy use.
I was really keen to decarbonise my lifestyle and I’ve taken steps since getting a smart meter to do that. I’ve bought an electric car, I charge that from solar panels and from the grid. I’ve got a home battery installed so I can use my excess solar in the evening and also charge that up from the grid. Then I realised that my gas usage was contributing to my carbon footprint so I eradicated my gas hob, got an induction hob and I replaced my gas boiler with an air source heat pump which is also powered from my home battery and from the grid.
I decided to use a time of use tariff to save myself money basically. If I’d been using a standard variable tariff or a normal fixed energy tariff my energy costs would be through the roof, with the amount of electricity we use. Just by being on a time of use tariff over the last 125 days, I’ve saved over £1400 compared to what I’d normally be paying on a standard variable rate.
So after the pandemic, we’re all used to things being a bit more flexible, like you’ve got more flexible working hours, working from home and things like that. I see these innovative tariffs as being one more form of flexibility, you have more flexibility about how you use your electricity, how you pay for that electricity as well. For example, by rewarding you by moving into the off peak and cheaper, less dirty periods of electricity generation, you can actually save yourself quite a significant amount of money. And that’s all part of how society is moving.
My smart meter allows me to access these time of use tariffs by taking half hourly readings, so it knows what electricity I am using every half hour period, and it reports this back to my energy supplier, and then bill me accordingly to what I have used in those periods.
Being environmentally friendly is important to me, I obviously have taken some big steps like the home battery, solar power, the heat pump and things like that. But I’ve also taken little steps, and you can as well. For example, if you leave a TV on you can see that on your smart meter cause it comes up on the display as it's being a draw, so you can go around the house turning things off, and that saves you a little bit of money and saves the planet in return.
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