Britain’s largest energy supplier has won the race to roll out a household smart meter fit for the digital energy boom sparked by renewable energy, batteries and electric vehicles.
After years of delay the next generation smart meter will be rolled out to British Gas customers from next year following a small-scale trial in UK homes over the summer.
The major difference between the first and second generation meters, which both enable customers to track and record their energy use, is that the data will be used to harness household solar power, battery packs and electric vehicle charging to create a more efficient energy system.
Whereas early meters were touted by suppliers as an end to estimated billing, the new meters are expected to unlock a raft of innovative retail energy products, including time-of-use tariffs and peer-to-peer energy trading.
In the short-term Landis+Gyr, the UK’s largest smart meter manufacturer, said the devices would iron out the teething issues faced by some customers using the first generation meter, known as SMETS1, when they opt to switch supplier. SMETS2 will also be more secure than the original smart meter, the company added.
As the roll-out builds Stephen Cunningham, from Landis+Gyr, said the new meters would enable “a huge range of energy options from simple fixes to highly complicated services”.
The use of smart meters allows distribution network operators to “read” the fluctuations in household supply and demand. The rise of solar panels and batteries means that homes can increasingly feed supply back into the grid, as well as drawing from it.
As a result the operators will be able to play the role of National Grid in balancing energy use but at a much smaller, local level to prevent blackouts and make better use of renewable power. This will mean networks will need to invest less in fortifying the grid by raising energy bills, he added.
“That’s the beauty of it,” said Mr Cunningham. “It doesn’t matter if a percentage of SMETS1 remain because the density of information from SMETS2 will give the networks enough data to react to our energy use better.
“At a very basic level network operators will immediately be alerted when there is a power cut to an area or a home during a storm, for example. Currently they rely on being told by customers. It’s easy to see how this very simple change could be very important in helping vulnerable members of society,” he added.
The Swiss-based company said the UK market was already being eyed by Silicon Valley investors.
"What is happening here is seen as a hotbed of innovation, and the world will follow," said Mr Cunningham.
The full-purpose smart meters have been long awaited by the market while the digital system architecture is fine-turned by the Data and Communications Company.