The growth of smart energy will not only help to bring down household fuel bills, but also safeguard the nation’s energy future by preventing blackouts, the executive director of the National Grid has claimed.
Nicola Shaw, who took on the new role at the operator in March, has been tasked with helping to reduce the strain on the national network, and believes that technological advances will play an integral role in achieving this.
Internet of energy
Perhaps the biggest factor in the technological revolution will be the increasing connectivity between household appliances, which Ms Shaw has dubbed ‘the internet of energy’.
In recent years, white goods and other household appliances have morphed into multi-functional devices that can be communicated with in a number of ways.
This has been enhanced further still as manufacturers and suppliers have harnessed the power of the internet to connect these appliances, and the result is connected homes that go far beyond a router and a laptop.
As well as increasing consumer convenience, these new domestic networks can play a vital role in balancing energy demand and ensure that less strain is placed on the country’s National Grid, according to its UK boss.
Keeping the lights on
Ms Shaw agrees that the UK needs more gas-fired power to help prevent blackouts, but also pointed out that half of fluctuations on the electricity grid could be smoothed out if households and businesses adjusted their demand at peak times.
She explained: “We are at a moment of real change in the energy industry. From an historic perspective we created energy in big generating organisations that sent power to houses and their businesses. Now, we are producing energy in those places - mostly with solar power.”
One positive side-effect of this is that consumers and companies are increasingly adjusting their consumption so that it mainly occurs when fuel is at its cheapest. In particular, energy is being generated, stored, and then used flexibly through new controls and online software.
Although businesses have mainly been reaping the dividends, there is an increasing move towards consumers harnessing the benefits, with smart meters playing a key role in helping to achieve this.
Similar to water meters, they eliminate the need for estimated bills and enable energy companies to offer different prices at different times of the day. Although only in their relative infancy, it is thought that the increasing installation of these meters in tandem with centralised household hubs will help to regulate energy usage and not only lower prices, but also the threats of blackouts.
Ms Shaw says adjusting energy consumption when power is at its cheapest – such as turning on a washing machine to utilise wind power or turning off a freezer momentarily at peak time – will collectively have a significant impact on household bills and overall UK demand, reducing the need for new power stations.
She added: "All of that is a real revolution… a smart energy revolution that's changing the way we think about energy across the country.”
Ultimately, technology is creating the opportunity for price flexibility, while also playing an important role in limiting emissions and increasing convenience for families and businesses alike.
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