Industry backs smart grid transition but concerns remain

There is a "real appetite" to revolutionise energy use through smart grids from both industry and the public, but the benefits need to be clearly communicated and shared, according to new research.

A report, by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), says that key challenges must be overcome in preparing for the ‘smart’ revolution.

It cites barriers such as low levels of public understanding of smart grids, misuse of data and concerns over energy suppliers remotely controlling home appliances, as well as more fundamental difficulties in predicting how smart grids will develop over time.

Project leader Dr Nazmiye Balta-Ozkan of the University of Westminster’s Policy Studies Institute, says: “The UK’s electricity grid is fast becoming outdated, as new technologies and new behaviours change the way we use and supply power.

“Our increased use of intermittent renewables and electric vehicles will require more intelligent ways of managing and delivering energy. But energy suppliers and the government need to be switched on to consumer concerns about this transition.”

According to Balta-Ozkan, smart grids could allow consumers’ to benefit from cheaper energy bills by matching tariffs to their usage patterns, as well as enabling more efficient use of energy and more effective integration of large amounts of renewables.

However, policy needs to address the long-term issues around risk, innovation and investment, as well as equity so that vulnerable consumers are not disadvantaged, she added.

The research identifies a set of ‘smart grid’ scenarios ranging from a world dominated by gas with little smart grid development to one where renewables and electric vehicles are strongly incentivised and developed; leading to a consumer driven smart grid.

Of the options, 53% of the public supported a scenario which predicts a future where a significant amount of electricity is generated by households and through community led schemes.

It also found that despite smart meters being widely seen by experts as an important part of smart grid development, a lack of strong data protection and privacy measures (cited by 60%), as well as consumer apprehension about sharing energy data (cited by 49%), were seen by the public as the biggest barriers to future UK smart grid development.

There was also concern that those on lower incomes would not be able to afford smart appliances and that vulnerable people could be taken advantage of by companies, or miss out on potential benefits.

Leigh Stringer

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