The dawn of smarter energy?

Posted: 10th February 2010

It has been well documented in the press of late that we can all expect our energy bills to dramatically rise over the next few years.  In spite of news that British Gas has just cut its prices by 7% - saving its customers an average of around £55 per year on their gas bills - the outlook for the longer term is much bleaker.  Energy regulator OFGEM has warned that by 2020 we could expect to see energy bills breaking the £2000-a-year mark (a 25% increase on current levels), whilst the comparison website U-Switch warns that if wholesale energy costs rise as the world moves out of recession, bills could be higher still, quoting the alarming but ‘worst case’ figure of £4000.  As energy prices rise, it is very much a reality that significant numbers of people will be faced with the prospect of unaffordable bills.

OFGEM commented that there was ‘reasonable doubt’ about whether the energy market would be able to deliver sustainable supplies over the current decade.  With the threat of power shortages and soaring costs, it is safe to say that the energy market is in turmoil.  So what is being done about it?

To try and combat this situation the government is mandating the introduction of something called the ‘smart meter’ – a two-way communicating device that once installed at the home shows exactly how much gas and electricity is being used, meaning the end of the estimated bill and enabling up to the minute information on usage and costs.  For the homeowner, the key component of this new capability is the in-home display (IHD) that will allow them to see exactly what they are using and when.  With more information available, consumers can take control of their bills as well as reducing their carbon footprint.  For the supplier, a ‘smart grid’ enables them to manage demand and improve the efficiency of the network, so it would appear to be win-win.

Stephen Cunningham, UK and Ireland Chief Executive for Landis + Gyr, heralds the ‘smart grid’ a ‘potentially more profound step than North Sea gasification’, whilst The Energy Retail Association comments, ‘the technological advance would be the equivalent of using wireless broadband instead of sending a telegram’.

As one of Europe’s worst energy wasters, the impact that ‘smart monitors’ could have would be enormous.  It has been estimated that our bad habits in the UK, such as leaving appliances on standby, could be costing as much as £11bn a year.  Research from Finland in 2008 found that in-home displays brought average energy savings of 10.3%.  In light of the predicted hike in energy costs over the next decade this represents a significant saving.

The government’s target is ambitious and spans an entire decade (fitting 49 million meters by the end of 2020) which means that as a consumer you may not be taking advantage of this money saving technology until 2020, by which time you could have already been subjected to 10 years of steadily increasing energy prices.  However, this need not be an obstacle, as there is technology available now that can offer the same benefits and more.

Intamac’s system provides an alternative to replacing the current energy meter with a new ‘smart meter’.  By fitting a device to the existing meter the same ‘smart’ features can be enabled and visually presented not only on an IHD, but also via the web, using Intamac’s own web platform.  Using a central hub and a broadband connection, consumers can link and control devices (including the ‘smart monitor’) in the home.  The overriding benefit of this method is, scope.  Using the Intamac web platform consumers can not only monitor the overall energy usage at their home, but control individual devices and program the service to intelligently act on their behalf (to reduce their bills and carbon footprint).  By way of an example, this could mean programming the system to automatically turn off devices once a homeowner has left their property, thus saving money that would otherwise have been spent on wasteful practices such a leaving appliances on stand-by.

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