Two weeks ago, the energy regulator Ofgem launched a £9.75 million tender call to assess smart metering and monitoring in UK households. It follows from their earlier work on smart metering in which the ECI submitted a response, noting that energy savings of 5 to 10% are possible when consumers have better information on their energy consumption. However at the time, Ofgem assumed a more conservative 1% saving and lamented that little evidence was available on how UK consumers might react to such feedback.
This monitoring pilot study is an attempt to provide that evidence. For those who like detail, there’s a press release available or the full tender document if you prefer (both PDFs). Applicants are invited to submit their proposals for home energy monitoring and several ideas will be tested in parallel, allowing the results to be compared before drawing policy conclusions.
It will be very interesting to see what options are proposed. Energy feedback literature indicates that clear, timely and relevant information will be most effective suggesting that software-based approaches – where the household has to actually log onto their computer to either input the data or observe the results – might be less effective. Tangible displays that encouarge consumer interaction are much more promising. One option is something like Sharp’s JH-G51X PV monitor, which features consumption information as well as tracking household progress against saving targets. Others have experimented with devices that detail how different appliances in the home are used and provide customized advice to consumers.
If a particular project is seen to be successful, then Ofgem is likely to offer electricity suppliers EEC (Energy-efficiency commitment) credit for installing these devices. This could be a big push for increasing consumer awareness of energy – not just in microgeneration applications but in all households. I’ll keep following this as it develops but it might be a while. The tender closes at the end of September with the winning bids announced soon after; results won’t be available until 30 March 2007 at the earliest.
Back in February, I gave a brief history of metering innovation in the UK which ended by saying that the regulator, Ofgem, was conducting a consultation on how the next generation of metering technology could be encouraged. The Environmental Change Institute submitted a response in which we shared our views and research experience.
The results of the consultatoin were released at the end of June and identified three areas where Ofgem can make a contribution:
- Developing common standards for smart meters
- Removing any remaining regulatory barriers
- Taking a leading role in the DTI’s pilot on smart metering and consumer behaviour
These are all sensible proposals and hopefully they will promote the growth of innovative metering technologies. On a personal note, it’s very rewarding to see that the Environmental Institute was cited regarding the importance of visual monitoring displays. We tried to stress that smart meters alone will be insufficient if consumers are to play a greater role in managing their domestic energy consumption. Instead an entire system of technologies and policies must be created to provide consumers with information on their energy consumption and its impact on the environment.
Therefore, while it sounds as though our comments were largely taken on board, I think it’s worth re-iterating this line from our original submission: “Ofgem needs to be aware that unless the supporting institutional frameworks are correct, the results [of a metering pilot] may be disappointing”. Perhaps it should read “DTI needs to be aware…”, as they are funding the pilot and setting its terms of reference. In any case, the main message is that consultations are ultimately judged on how effectively the government is able to transform the received responses into a solution to the perceived problem. This cannot be achieved by considering one element of a complex system in isolation and (fingers crossed) Ofgem will adopt a multi-faceted approach in relation to smart metering.
You may have noticed that I’ve just added an “M&M” category for posts about metering and monitoring technology. I haven’t really talked about these devices yet but they’re an integral feature of microgeneration installations and play a big role in promoting household interaction with these technologies.
There don’t seem to be any hard and fast definitions for these things but here’s what I’ve been using:
Monitoring devices record and/or display information about the electricity produced by a microgeneration system (and sometimes household consumption as well). Importantly the information gathered by these devices is not used for ‘fiscal’ purposes, i.e. billing. It simply provides information to the household in an accessible manner, e.g. visually or for download to a PC. There is a wide range of monitoring devices available on the market but here’s a top-of-the-line example from Sharp.
I’ll discuss these devices in more detail in a later post.
Metering technology is used to record flows of electricity for billing purposes (often the information isn’t used for this purpose but the important thing is that is could be). Here’s a simple example:
There are potentially three types of meters in a microgeneration household:
- Import: Required by law for all electricity customers, this meter is typically read twice a year in the UK as a basis for your electricity bill. Ofgem allows suppliers to charge £1.12 per year for operating these devices so there is strong competition in manufacturer and maintenance.
- Export: These meters measure the flow of excess electricity returned, or exported, to the national grid. There is no requirement on any actor within the electricity network to provide these devices and so if you want one, you either have to rely on the goodwill of your supplier (and district network operator who provides the meter to the supplier) or pay about £200 from your own pocket. Some suppliers use these meters as a basis for payment for microgenerated electricity.
- Generation: Generation meters record how many kilowatt-hours have been produced by your microgeneration system since its installation. Instead of export payments, many suppliers offer generation tariffs based on data from these meters.
Since having three seperate meters is a bit of a nuisance, there are also discussions underway about whether advanced metering technology, which combines many these features, might be introduced in the UK. More on this in a later post.