The smart way to upgrade Britain's infrastructure

The national debate about infrastructure often focuses on the big plans for airports, railways and roads. Improving the great networks and hubs of Britain is, of course, essential for our future prosperity. But, as ICE has rightly pointed out, investing in our energy sector is just as important.

Every home and small business in England, Wales and Scotland will be offered smart meters at no extra cost by 2020
Every home and small business in England, Wales and Scotland will be offered smart meters at no extra cost by 2020
  • Updated: 01 March, 2016
  • Author: Sacha Deshmukh, Smart Energy GB Chief Executive

The Infrastructure for London Manifesto sets out the capital’s challenge in delivering reliable, clean and affordable energy.

Upgrading our energy infrastructure

Similar arguments could be made about the need to upgrade the analogue energy infrastructure of many other cities, towns and rural communities. London is a modern, global powerhouse. But great cities must embrace sophisticated energy management if they are to thrive in the decades ahead. For too long residents and small businesses have been putting up with an analogue system in a digital age. Estimated meter readings are just one of the inconveniences and inefficiencies of this outdated approach.

As ICE has pointed out, the uptake of smart technology is essential if London and other cities are to become more energy efficient. The smart cities of the future will have to generate and store more energy locally. Smart grids will be needed to balance supply and demand, as renewable sources like solar account for an ever greater share of our power needs.

There is an urgent need to develop clean, community-led energy sources and further improve the efficiency of our buildings and homes. City dwellers won’t be able to generate sustainable sources of power without ‘flexible’ energy infrastructure that can store renewable electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

Small scale generation – both at the domestic and commercial level – will improve the security of our energy supply. The national smart meter rollout is an essential part of the transformation we require. By 2020, every home and microbusiness in England, Wales and Scotland will have been offered the opportunity to upgrade their gas and electricity meters to smart meters at no extra cost.

The national rollout is one of the biggest infrastructure projects of this parliament. Without it, our energy network would be stuck in the 20th century.

Unlocking a greener economy

Smart meters arm consumers with data which empowers them to save energy and money. And, in aggregate, they also unlock the potential of a smarter and greener economy. Professor Dieter Helm has set out in a white paper for Smart Energy GB the role of smart meters in co-ordinating energy systems and in doing so, addressing climate change.

Take just one example: the mass deployment of electric cars on our city’s roads could not be successfully achieved without smart meters. With our current energy system, the grid would be overwhelmed if millions of people came home and plugged their cars in at the same time. A smart grid coupled with more advanced electricity storage and diverse generation makes wider adoption of clean electric vehicles possible.

Without the smart meter infrastructure, it will be much harder to improve air quality in urban areas. As the population of London and other cities increases, we cannot simply try to squeeze more and more capacity out of the existing energy system.

The smart meter roll out is a hugely ambitious national upgrade. But the benefits are clear. Many are already enjoying the advantages of smart technology – and eight in ten people who’ve already got their smart meter say they would recommend it to others.

As millions more join the energy revolution, the importance of this great transformation to Britain’s towns, cities and rural areas will become ever clearer.

If you have any further queries or would like any further information on the smart meter rollout, please contact Smart Energy on +44 (0)20 3019 1000.

About the author

Sacha Deshmukh, is Chief Executive of Smart Energy GB, which is delivering one of the largest public engagement and behaviour change campaigns in Great Britain.