Clair Maugham: Smart energy meters open up world of possibilities

File picture: John Devlin
File picture: John Devlin
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SMART energy meters will not only give customers more control over their spending, they will open up a world of possibilities, says Claire Maugham

THE digital revolution has changed our lives in ways we could never have imagined.

In 2016, the world’s largest accommodation provider owns no hotels, the world’s largest taxi company owns no cars, and the world’s most popular media owner doesn’t create any content.

Can you imagine finding out what your friends are up to, buying clothes or services, or comparing one hotel with another without the help of smart technology?

Contrast this with how you think and act about your energy use. The way householders buy their energy has barely changed in decades.

Most people rely on estimated bills, or have to peer into a dusty cupboard under the stairs to give an occasional reading – and that’s before we try to fathom out the foreign language of kilowatt hours and therms.

But change is finally coming. The energy sector is set to be revolutionised, as other markets have been through the impact of digital technology. A vital part of that transformation is the national rollout of smart meters.

Smart meters are coming to every home and microbusiness in Scotland by 2020, to replace old gas and electricity meters with digital technology. They’ll be installed at no additional cost by energy suppliers and they’ll allow customers to take control of their energy use by showing what is being spent in pounds and pence, in near real-time. Smart meters mean accurate bills and no more estimates, as meter readings are sent directly to the provider.

By bringing an end to the absurdity of estimated billing, it will help those in fuel poverty manage their bills. At the moment, even if you are efficient at sending in your meter readings, you have no way of knowing what’s going to be in the bill when it lands on the mat.

For people on pre-payment meters – half a million across Scotland – the impact of the current meter system is huge. Pre-payment meters are not just inconvenient and more expensive – but because they are often installed as a result of falling into debt, it means those who can afford it least end up with higher bills.

Smart meters will give people on low income far more control and choice. And crucially, smart meters will also allow for the introduction of smarter technology throughout our entire energy infrastructure as well as playing a part in Scotland’s plan to bring down its carbon footprint.

They will also provide a new digital platform for innovation in energy. Text alerts could be sent to a carer of an isolated or vulnerable person if the heating didn’t come on one day.

The future possibilities are limitless. This is only the beginning of what could be delivered.

• Claire Maugham is director of policy and communications at Smart Energy GB