It’s no secret that if nations want to meet the Net Zero emission targets set by international organizations by 2050, there’s a lot of work to be done. In the UK, one of the key initiatives aimed at reducing emissions and increasing energy efficiency is the development of the Smart Grid.
What Is the Smart Grid?
In 2014, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and industry regulator Ofgem first published their vision and routemap for the Smart Grid. In their extensive document, the organizations defined the Smart Grid as “a modernised electricity grid that uses information and communications technology to monitor and actively control generation and demand in near real-time, which provides a more reliable and cost-effective system for transporting electricity from generators to homes, business and industry.”
In other words, the Smart Grid applies the Internet of Things (IoT) to existing energy systems, operating with a connected network of smart meters, monitoring devices, and computers that conduct extensive data analysis to make the energy production and distribution process more efficient and sustainable.
The benefits of this are plentiful. For starters, it will reduce consumer costs by giving them more control over their energy usage and implementing a more efficient energy distribution model network-wide. A lower cost of energy also means that individuals can spend more at other businesses, and companies can invest in new jobs, strengthening the economy as a result. In addition, greater monitoring and control means that network companies can anticipate and identify problems faster, better managing supply and demand at a local level.
Setting a Path Forward
When the DECC and Ofgem set their vision for the Smart Grid, they also proposed a phased approach for making it happen. They outlined the need for smart gas and electricity meters (53 million, in fact) to be deployed in homes across the UK. These would be crucial tools in measuring consumption data, helping both users and providers make smarter, more efficient decisions. They also framed the need for Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) to start considering the different roles and responsibilities they would have within the Smart Grid. For example, they would have to become much more active in managing their distribution systems, rather than passively monitoring them. Plus, they would have to start considering alternative energy sources and how they could be “plugged into” their networks.
The Development Phase – which was meant to span 2014–2020, but is arguably where we are still due to Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic – would also see changes and updates to regulatory frameworks, ensuring that both businesses and consumers alike were prepared to support the deployment of the Smart Grid. The second phase would then focus on deployment, building on the growing network of smart meters, and the third phase would see the UK achieving its objectives.
Where Are We on the Journey?
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest priorities for Ofgem and the DECC was the rollout of 53 million smart meters by 2020. While we are still far off from that total, and the deadline has now been extended to 2025, there has recently been a concerted effort to meet this goal. In 2021, a record 8 million smart meters were installed and connected to the Data Communications Company (DCC), taking the total from 9.2 million to 17 million around the UK. This year, the DCC expects smart meters to outnumber traditional analogue meters.
While the number might seem low compared to the planned 53 million, these smart meters are making a significant impact. In 2021, the connected meters sent and received over 6 billion messages, and that provided utilities companies with data that can help them optimize their grid management. This transition is also helping reduce costs for consumers, as they only get billed for the energy they actually use, while also helping them lower their carbon footprint. In fact, the DCC states that the 17 million units connected to the network in 2021 help to reduce 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
When it comes to greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions, the UK has been on a downward trend since 1990. Due to the pandemic, there was a vast reduction in transportation use that led to much lower emissions in 2020 than there were in 2019. However, even as people became more active and mobile during 2021, the UK was still able to lower its total emissions once again. In part, this speaks to the effectiveness of smarter technologies and methods being used in the industry, as well as the spirit of collaboration to meet these targets.
This year, global energy supply issues have highlighted the need for smart and efficient power generation and distribution. However, that hasn’t stopped the UK’s energy network companies from coming together and laying down ambitious plans to reduce emissions. Led by Energy Networks Association (ENA), which brings together all of Britain’s network companies and industry stakeholders under their Open Network program to help transform the way energy networks operate, the group announced a series of priorities for this year, most of which will contribute to building the Smart Grid. Beyond a commitment to innovation, this shows industry-wide collaboration that speaks to the original vision for the Smart Grid.
Ofgem has also recently laid out tangible recommendations for what needs to be done to build the energy system of the future. In a report published in July 2022, the organization proposes reforms that would make the retail energy market more resilient and a key player in driving forward net zero. One such reform is the ongoing investment in digitizing the energy system and adopting new smart technologies that give consumers more control over their energy consumption.
The regulator also hinted at the fact that it is working with government bodies to better articulate their thinking and lay out a long-term vision for consumers, so, we should expect to see a new iteration of the Smart Grid vision that will set the stage for the next decade of innovation in the energy sector.
About the Author: Ali Cameron is a content marketer that specializes in the cybersecurity and B2B SaaS space. Besides writing for Tripwire’s State of Security blog, she’s also written for brands including Okta, Salesforce, and Microsoft. Taking an unusual route into the world of content, Ali started her career as a management consultant at PwC where she sparked her interest in making complex concepts easy to understand. She blends this interest with a passion for storytelling, a combination that’s well suited for writing in the cybersecurity space.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.