Smart meters only part of the solution

Senztek chief executive Brian Knolles on smart energy management. The old cry of “turn off that light” used to be the staple of household energy saving activity.

Today its modern version advises homeowners to turn off equipment on standby, or to insulate for better energy efficiencies. There are many messages concerning energy and how we use it, pay for it, manage it, and conserve it. Senztek enters the discussion with a focus on smart energy management. Managing energy smartly, be it to save money or to manage an increasingly scarce resource, is just simply good practice. Energy is a commodity and we all need to learn how to manage it better, not just passively let it manage us. The debate on ‘smart metering’ centres on what benefits it brings to the major stakeholders. For the energy companies, the initial benefit relates to the elimination of visiting meter readers and more accurate real time reading of meters. The benefits for the consumer are less obvious. There are the future benefits once electric appliances can ‘talk’ to smart meters; but it’s still in the future and the pathway’s not all that clear. Smart meters provide information about power consumption to the energy company and they may provide some information to the consumer. What matters is the ability to act on the information to better control energy consumption. Reducing the cost of meter reading does not have any impact on energy consumption. I see smart meters as being an important advance but they are only part of the solution. Once they are combined with smart demand-side management, such as the energy demand controller with smart plugs, and smart pricing, then homes and businesses will be able to enjoy a new era in the way they control their energy consumption. We think there is a place to create this technology for today’s market. We need products that work now, without waiting for appliances that are ‘smart’ enough to interact and provide information about energy use. For the consumer the term ‘smart meter’ is probably not all that clear. Smart enough to do what? There is a fair amount of suspicion as to why an energy company might want to install these new meters in replacement of the old meters. So what will the new one going to do that the old one could not? We all get the bit about not needing to send a meter reader around anymore but is that alone justification enough to refer to this thing as ‘smart’? Will it be able to tell you how much energy the television is using, or what having three computers on standby is doing to your bill? Will it give you the option of deciding you need to keep the hot water running at optimum temperature all day while you’re out at work? Does it give you an alternative to switching it off in the morning and turning it on again at night – oh, and waiting for it to heat up before you can have a shower? To be really ‘smart’ smarter energy management means giving consumers information about all their energy usage over time for each major appliance, helping them understand how they are using energy and how much this is costing per day. Then add an estimate of their current energy bill based on usage to date. Consumers can then start to make intelligent choices about their energy usage. They are then able to decide on any trade-off between comfort and economy. Businesses have similar needs, but they probably have more choices and there is greater potential for savings. Senztek would say its new Energy Demand Controller and smart plugs are smart because they can make some decisions based on what is happening in your home. It just sits in the corner and works away at ensuring you, the consumer, save money by eliminating the use of energy when it is just simply not required. Now that’s smart. It’s the future, and it’s here now.