Smart meters are key to enabling the establishment of a smart energy grid – the modern, more sustainable way of running our power networks

At the most basic level, smart meters produce more accurate energy billing and enable consumers to better understand their energy usage, making it easier to alter behaviour to save energy and cut down costs.

However, smart meters have a much grander part to play in Britain’s future energy system. Smart meters are a vital 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.

The smart grid will utilise a range of new smart 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.

Balancing supply with demand

Armed with better data on the country’s energy use, network operators will be able to accurately track electricity demand and ensure generation is better prepared to match it, making for a more stable, efficient grid. And with less investment needed to fortify the grid, lower costs will be passed on to consumers.

Integration of renewable energy

By combining information on energy demand from smart meters with weather forecasts, grid operators will be able to better plan for the integration of intermittent renewable energy into the grid and balance their networks, helping us make the most from sustainable sources such as wind and solar, and decreasing our reliance on carbon.

Benefitting from 'time-of-use' tariffs

By letting energy suppliers know accurate, real-time measures of demand, smart meters will help introduce ‘time-of-use’ tariffs – notifying customers when supply is low (off-peak) or demand is high (peak) via visible price signals. Incentivising customers to use energy this way will not only allow us to save energy, but also make better use of variable, greener sources of power.

Promoting EVs and smart appliances

The development of smart technology and the Home Area Network (HAN) will enable appliances to automatically switch on and off in response to demand and supply. For instance, electric vehicles (EVs) could be set to charge automatically when the sun is shining, or consumers could programme their washing machine or dishwasher to turn on or off depending on the level of demand and price of energy related to it.

Encouraging energy 'prosumers'

Smart meters, working alongside connected devices, microgeneration and battery storage, will also open up the possibility for consumers who produce their own energy to have control over exactly when they use consume, when they store, and even when they export their energy to the grid for profit. A blockchain-based peer-to-peer trading system could even provide the option to sell any excess energy directly to our friends or neighbours.