Smart Meters- as simple as it seems?

Smart meters were back in the news just before Christmas with the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) publishing early findings of energy use and smart meter data in non-domestic premises.

The assumption is that by having a smart meter, businesses will automatically save money, monitor their usage and become all-round energy managers, but will they? The industry has campaigned for smart meters to be used to reduce carbon emissions and increase efficiency. However, are we expecting businesses to do too much? Should the energy industry, in general, take more responsibility for managing this?

Smart meters don't "automatically save money"

The BEIS study involved six clusters – both high energy and low energy customer facing chains, small public-sector sites, small independents, offices and landlords and tenants. Workshops held with four of the groups, namely small hospitality chains, independent retailers, small manufacturers and schools revealed difficulty in understanding and making use of the data and a perceived lack of opportunities for energy saving. Interest, skills and lack of knowledge were emergent issues and that energy management may not be an organisational priority when already trying to run a business. Schools are teaching institutions, whose responsibility is it to understand the data? Should it be at each site or should all schools be managed as a collective?

The basic premise is if we tell you how much you are using, you’ll modify your behaviour and save money accordingly – but, to what extent will you be motivated by small monetary savings? Small to medium-sized enterprises through to the biggest companies and users will require feedback, advice and direction on a continual basis.

Smart meters are just a tool – a measurement and management tool. We need them to better manage supply and demand. In the case of water, just to know where the water goes from source to end user as water loss and missing leakage targets make newspapers headlines. In an energy context, smart meters are the precursor to smart grids and networks. There are vested interests for small and large companies to reduce use and subsequently costs, but not all will know how.

So, what is a smart meter?

There is still no general consensus on what constitutes a smart meter, if we break it down into components - it’s a meter that collects data, and transfers that data via a communication protocol to a central repository. The repository stores the data ready for processing which is either driven by an analyst or a pre-defined automated report. The most important component is the feedback of data to the customer. And that feedback needs to be operational, detailed AND tailored to the business or end user so it is put into action and more importantly it’s measurable.

The volume of data already available to both water and energy utilities is abundant, what is missing is translation into meaningful and actionable information and people with skill sets who are capable of doing this. A recent article in the Guardian proclaimed a tsunami of data could consume one-fifth of global electricity by 2025, conversely, digital transformation of economies and large-scale energy efficiencies were expected to reduce global emissions by 20% but the information and communication technology required to do just that could triple power consumption.

An organisation or indeed a representative can only take action if they are able to interpret any data in the context of their own operations and the solution is cost effective. The BEIS study noted that there was not yet an indication that energy suppliers are providing information or support.

We need to focus on the management of data

Smart metering will not automatically reduce water and energy use, we need to shift emphasis away from the functionality of the technology to the management of the data. It won’t be enough for utilities or suppliers to simply send businesses water use or energy use information, and this concern from businesses emerged from the BEIS workshops.

Energy suppliers and energy consultants will need to assist businesses in interpreting the data in order that they may change their respective business practices and ultimately, achieve the collective goals of emission reductions and energy efficiency.

Here at amber, we are big on data and operational efficiency for both energy and water. We can help you with tailored strategy and solution – drop us a message or pop in for a chat!

NewsTracy Britton