Smart grid project offers hope in UK's rising energy bill

With energy prices soaring ever higher and the government claiming it’s powerless to reign in the big suppliers, smart grids might be a lifeline.

David Cameron has called on the government to work harder and faster to bring down energy bills before another biting winter is upon us. And, after an energy summit between the government and six of the biggest energy providers, consumers were called on to spark more competition to help bring prices down.

But according to Phil Bentley, British Gas’ managing director, the “inconvenient truth” is that gas prices are going to continue to rise due to outside market pressures.

There is hope, however, that smart grids could eventually help curb rising energy bills.

Smart grids have seen a lot of development and they are edging closer to commonplace reality, though we might have to brave a few more cold spells first.

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has just handed over a £507k grant to the University of Westminster to develop the technology.

The aim of the project is to explore how smart grid systems can improve monitoring and operating energy supplies, which could one day offer substantial reductions in energy bills.

One of the problems is that there isn’t a shared vision of how to take schemes forward in a unified way. This is echoed on an international level – with discussions cropping up about standardisation in Europe.

The project will explore ways to successfully put a smart grid system in place in the UK.

This will involve bringing “new knowledge regarding possible UK energy system transitions”, in order to provide an “accurate understanding of the implications for people and society, and provide valuable support for government decisions on UK policy.” 

According to Dr Aidan Rhodes at UKERC, the work should bring about lower prices in the UK when they are in full swing.

“Smart grids can potentially lower the cost of energy in the long-term through smarter usage of generation resources, less energy lost in transmission and allowing consumers to access more time-of-use tariffs and to feedback energy into the grid,” he told TechEye.

Although smart grids are big business, it seems that it could be a while before they are able to drag down prices for the whole of the country.

“Most of these benefits are a long way off – a decade at least, and the investment and R&D effort going into creating a smart grid will cost more than business-as-usual in the short term.

“However, in the 2020s and 30s, smart grids potentially will reduce prices significantly.”