Leading the smart energy revolution

Over the next couple of decades, the world’s energy system will be transformed almost unrecognisably by new digital technologies. This energy revolution will have a profound and lasting impact on both energy demand and supply, making it more connected, more reliable and – crucially – more sustainable. In tandem with modern technological breakthroughs, it is the requirement to decarbonise our energy usage that has become the major driver for this energy revolution. 

Achieving a cleaner, greener and more efficient energy system has become absolutely pivotal to realising a more sustainable world, though not just in the face of climate change. The ever-expanding global population and rapid urbanisation of our cities are set to pose additional energy-related challenges in years to come, with growing demand placing even greater stress on power networks at the same time that traditional energy sources dwindle. The electrification of transport and – increasingly – heating will pose a particular challenge for the generation and distribution industry.

As such, it has never been more important to modify and modernise our energy system to counter these universal challenges, not only by way of how energy is supplied, but also by nature of how (and when) we demand and use it.

Given the size of the task at hand, the energy revolution will require cohesive global action and cooperation to affect real and enduring transformation. That said, besides international policy makers, it is the energy sector itself, and companies like SMS, that has the greatest potential (and responsibility) to spearhead and lead change.

As a major energy services company with both technology and sustainability right at the very core of our ethos and business model, SMS Plc is in a position to lead the revolution in the United Kingdom through our commitment to delivering the future of smart energy.

Smart meters and the smart grid

Why are smart meters so important to our digitally-driven energy transformation? Aside from providing more accurate energy billing (removing manual meter reading) and enabling consumers to better understand their energy usage, smart meter technology is a key component in the realisation of the smart energy grid – the digital, interconnected national network that will provide us with a more modern, more efficient, and cleaner supply of power.

Put simply, the smart grid will utilise a range of new technologies – with smart meters at the very centre of this chain – to allow for two-way communication between consumers and the energy network, enabling real-time, automatic responses to changing electric demand.

According to the International Energy Agency, one billion households and 11 billion smart appliances could participate in interconnected electricity systems by 2040 thanks to smart meters and connected devices. The implications of this are potentially huge. With the massive amounts of data collected by smart meters, distribution network operators will be infinitely better armed with more accurate figures on the country’s energy use, and in turn will be able to better match energy supply with demand – not just on a national scale, but on localised levels too.

By more accurate tracking of electricity demand, the network will also be able to ensure generation is more ably prepared to match it – including the much improved integration of intermittent renewable sources.

Smart grids won’t just empower operators to promote sustainability and decarbonisation, but consumers too. Indeed the data collected from smart meters are already enabling energy customers to participate in demand-side response (DSR) schemes through the provision of time-of-use tariffs. These tariffs incentivise customers to use less energy when supply is low or demand is high, or use more – for example – when the wind is blowing. As the name DSR suggests, this allows for better response to varying energy demand in order to save energy and balance out the grid.

Promoting green technologies, encouraging efficiency

Time-of-use tariffs are just the beginning in terms of how consumers will be able to reap maximum benefit from the smart grid. Over the coming years, the development of smart technologies working in tandem with the smart metering communication system will enable household appliances and commercial machinery to automatically switch on and off in response to demand and supply. For instance, electric vehicles could be set to charge automatically when the sun is shining, or consumers could programme their washing machine or work equipment to turn on or off depending on the real-time level of demand and price of energy related to it.

Smart meters, working alongside these connected devices, micro-generation technology and battery storage, will also open up the possibility for consumers who produce their own energy to have control over exactly when they use their energy, when they store it, and even when they can export it to the grid for profit (potentially through a blockchain-based peer-to-peer energy trading system).

Besides our commitment to introducing next-generation smart metering technology and the establishment of smart grids around the country, we at SMS Plc are at the forefront of facilitating a more sustainable Britain through our other two group service areas as well.

As a UK-wide multi-utility infrastructure solutions provider, we specialise in connections for renewable energy and storage projects, having done so on a large number of developments around the country. At the same time, we are also currently developing our capacity to play a leading role in expanding the national electric vehicle (EV) charging network and deployment of micro-generation through a specialist electricity connections, asset installation and asset finance service.

Meanwhile, our combined expertise as a Data Collector (DC), Data Aggregator (DA) and energy consultancy also sees us assist the UK industrial and commercial (I&C) sector in boosting energy efficiency and improving sustainability through the provision of our specialist energy management solutions. As our smart meter rollout gathers pace, we  are additionally innovating to support energy suppliers in using the large amount of domestic consumption data now available to drive the sustainability agenda.

Greener government policies aimed at encouraging businesses to combat climate change and promote economic prosperity have helped heighten demand for such services in recent years. Simultaneously, organisations have begun to wake up to the benefits of employing greater corporate social responsibility in ever greater numbers. Indeed, by reducing their energy consumption, organisations are not only fulfilling their moral obligation to the environment and enhancing their public image, but also reaping the financial rewards from doing so as they significantly slash their operational costs.

It’s within this context that last year the global energy service company (ESCO) market expanded by 12% to $26.8 billion, as demand for energy risk management and efficiency expertise bulged. This is a market that is only set to expand, as the digital transformation underway in our energy system will require even greater skill and know-how as firms look to adopt new, innovative ways of managing energy usage to take full advantage of smart grid opportunities.

A commitment to innovation

As a major stakeholder and leading player in both the smart metering and energy services industries, as has been emphasised, we have a clear mission to support the decarbonisation of Great Britain.

By helping British homes and businesses reduce energy consumption through the promotion of energy efficiency and via our manifesto to deliver the future of smart energy, our commitment to both sustainability and innovation is tangible, and is yet further reflected in our support for regional, national and EU government across a range of industry projects.

Working alongside project partners, our R&D efforts include the following:

• developing new technology and financial models to connect, control and actively manage generation and storage assets to exploit synergies between electrical flexibility and the thermal inertia of buildings (SABINA);
• developing innovative solutions towards improved building energy management (PERFORMER);
• developing home area network ICT technologies that connect consumers and prosumers to the smart grid (Mas2ering);
• improving water efficiency through the use of ICT technologies for integrated supply-demand side management (ICE-WISH).

Our work in these areas has allowed us stay at the cutting edge of technological development, standardisation and energy management drivers within our industry. This, combined with our unique breadth of service across the smart metering, utility infrastructure and energy management sectors puts us in a fantastic position to continue leading the energy revolution well into the future.