By Ray Hammond

IN this carbon-conscious age, we are all aware that smart electricity and gas meters are able to save consumers money and make energy consumption more efficient. Although this message has been widely received across Britain, some of us are still waiting to make the upgrade from analogue to digital. In just a few years time, when the majority of energy meters are digitised, the smart networks that will evolve inside our homes will help to change the way we live.

A recent report published by Smart Energy GB, entitled The Future Smart Energy Consumer, investigates how exactly how smart meters will contribute to this transformation. It reports that they have the potential to become the hub of a home power network that, over the next 15 years, could create a self-managing domestic “grid” which consumes energy when it is priced most economically, and which stores excess power to sell electricity back to the national or local neighbourhood grid when demand is high.

Smart meters already communicate wirelessly to monitor energy usage in the home, sending meter readings to your supplier at chosen intervals, ensuring an end to energy usage estimates. But soon stand-alone appliances may be able to report energy consumption individually to smart meters, allowing consumers to see which items are using what quantities of power, and at which times of day. This will allow smart meters to provide vital information which can be utilised to suggest energy-saving “improvements” to a consumer’s usage of appliances such as buying energy for washing machines and dryers at off peak times.

But the really big change to domestic electricity use will occur when consumers are able to add battery storage capacity to their domestic power system. Such a battery could be in the form of a stand-alone domestic battery, or a battery pack that is part of an electric vehicle. This will enable consumers to use their smart meter data and choose to buy energy from the grid when it is at its very lowest price. Just as battery storage is the key to making renewable energy a viable alternative to fossil fuels for grid operators and energy suppliers, it is domestic battery capacity which will allow consumers access to the greatest price flexibility.

Over the next decade or so the software agents we use today such as Siri, Alexa and Google Home will have matured into domestic artificial intelligence systems. With direction and consent from the consumer their AI could be capable of running domestic power grids entirely unaided and, using data shared by your smart meter, might decide when to buy power, when to activate an appliance, how much power to divert to battery storage and how much renewable power to sell on the neighbourhood network.

Your AI could be monitoring prices on both the national and local grids every second of the day and night and will be trading power in real time as demand changes and prices fluctuate. As climate change makes it certain that Britain will be experiencing more extreme weather by the 2030s, the energy savings made by such tightly controlled domestic power networks will make a vital contribution as the nation endeavours to get to a net zero carbon position by 2050.

It can be hard to visualise today how the steps we are taking now, such as having a smart meter installed, will contribute to a cleaner future. But it is clear that each individual’s contribution to helping digitise the energy system will bring benefits, and soon.

Ray Hammond is a futurist