Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Invasion of the smart meters


‘SMART meters’ are about to play a big part in your life, more than you realise. They will be fitted to all homes in the UK. We are told they will ‘help’ us.

It’s likely that there will be a built-in ability easily to change the function of these meters. The probable outcome in the near future will be that electricity is charged at different rates depending on its availability. The user can tell what the instantaneous power usage/cost is, though there will be no saving unless appropriate action is taken. They can be remotely read, eliminating estimated electricity bills (and meter readers). They could enable supply to be cut off remotely for non-payment.

This is the start of an attempt to control power consumption and tailor demand to available supply.  We have all got used to electricity being available as and when we want it (‘demand led supply’) but this may not be possible in our brave new world.

There will be provision to cut off power if there is some major supply problem. In the past we have had ‘rolling power cuts’ but these were hard to arrange. The smart meter will make it possible with a few mouse clicks.

Since the dawn of the public electricity supply, the problem has existed of matching the generation capacity to demand.

Traditional power stations cannot be turned on and off at will and even controlling the output of some is difficult. This leads to huge inefficiencies. The ideal would be that supply and demand were both constant but this will never happen . . . or maybe?

The ideal would be if non-essential equipment could be turned off for a few hours if there was insufficient electricity being generated. (Items such as freezers and immersion heaters.) This would apply for all power sources but is vital for renewable energy sources due to their intermittent nature.

The appearance of uncontrolled local micro-generation (solar panels and wind turbines) just makes things even more difficult.  There are many other domestic micro-generation technologies, both existing and in the pipeline, which will become increasingly common. The output of these devices is small at the moment but as it increases so do the problems.

At some point in the future, control of them will have to be taken from some central point. Of interest to solar panel owners, it’s likely that future smart meters could measure power exported.

There are several possible ways this might be achieved and pilot schemes are being run. Possibilities include some users being on cheaper ‘interruptible’ supplies that may be cut off at little or no notice. This might extend to individual items of equipment that are deemed non-essential. Future houses may be wired up so that ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ equipment is on different circuits. It also means that electricity tariffs could be continuously variable depending on availability. The smart meter would recognise this and shut off household equipment according to a financial plan. We might be able to save money by buying ‘smart’ electricity goods that could respond to commands from the meter.

However smart meters are being installed not for the convenience of electricity users as per the present government propaganda. They are being installed to impose a new discipline on users at some future time. They will make use of power sources more efficiently and reduce energy losses in the electricity grid. It’s very possible that electricity-using activities in the future, both commercial and domestic, will be governed at least partly by weather and tidal conditions. Eventually your gas and water meters may get to be smart too.

All of the above is going to be a necessity in our new expensive energy future whether it be derived from renewable, nuclear or fossil fuel sources. There are no cheap options left with regard to energy. It will cost billions to install this equipment and take many years. It’s going to have to be to be our new future, like it or not.

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Harold Armitage
Harold Armitage
Harold Armitage is a retired electrical engineer.

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