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Claire Maugham is director of policy and communications at Smart Energy GB, the body responsible for communicating to the public about the smart meter rollout across Great Britain. In this article, she explains why smart meter technology is necessary for smart cities to evolve.

Two thirds of the worlds’ population will be living in cities by 2045. This may or may not be a future of ‘Blade Runner’ mega-buildings and flying cars.

But the rapidly expanding (and ageing) urban population will load ever-increasing demands onto the sometimes-creaking infrastructure supporting transport, housing, healthcare and employment.

To meet these demands will take a radical rethink of the way cities are powered and managed. Our cities will need to become ‘smart cities’ – with faster internet connections, integrated transport networks and sophisticated grids for managing energy needs.

Some forward-thinking councils are already taking action. Bristol is building a platform for the development of smart city applications, and Nottingham, Glasgow and Manchester have set up initiatives to take their cities closer to their smart city vision.

They’ll need to be able to harness more sustainable and intelligent technologies. From leisure and shopping to healthcare, construction and education – smart solutions will become the norm.

But there is a huge leap to get to this smart city future – and smarter energy is an essential part of the journey.

Nationally, Britain is upgrading its energy infrastructure with the national rollout of smart meters, the biggest upgrade in a generation.

Action

The roll-out is well under way, with over 3 million smart meters already installed in homes and microbusinesses across the UK.

The analogue meters many of us still have in our homes haven’t changed much since the 1800s. They generate no data and aren’t linked into wider grids, which has meant little opportunity to innovate in the way we buy and use gas and electricity.

Smart meters are bringing an end to estimated bills and giving us visibility of what we’re spending in pounds and pence. They’ll make possible new tariffs based on time of use, which will help us to manage our energy demand across the country. The National Infrastructure Commission has said that once smart meters are installed, households will be able to save money by moving their demand to off-peak times, allowing much more sophisticated pricing mechanisms to be developed, increasing the scope for cost savings.

Countries around the world are using smart meter technology to deliver innovation and create new services, and there is huge potential to do the same here.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has shown his support for Britain’s smart meter rollout, recognising it can play a key role in creating a cleaner, greener London. This technology can give cities a new digital platform for innovation in energy.

Smart meters play a crucial role in enabling the smart grid, providing access to valuable data on energy being generated and used.

The benefits

The benefits could be significant, and could go more widely than the energy sector – into healthcare, for example.

Integrating smart energy data with other sensors, such as internal temperatures, humidity, personal health information and movement sensors, could open up a whole new raft of services. For example, this data could be sent to GPs to help them remotely monitor patients with long term conditions. Apps could also take data from smart meters and alert next of kin if a relative’s energy pattern suddenly changed. Looking at unusual patterns of energy usage could even help to identify early symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Renewables can also then be more easily and effectively integrated into the energy mix. And it will be easier for communities and local authorities to generate their own energy and sell it back to the grid.

Better energy management means cities will be able to introduce other smarter and greener initiatives – including electric vehicles, measures to cut air pollution and reduce carbon emissions. Electric vehicles, for example, could not be rolled out at scale without smart meters helping to manage the demands placed on the grid when they are charged at night.

Milton Keynes has already begun introducing electric buses and is investing in charging networks across the city for a new fleet of electric cars.

With 20 million electric vehicles set to be on the road by 2020, we are slowly but surely moving towards a smarter way of living.

Smart meter technology has an integral role to play in this. There is huge potential for councils and communities to use smart technology to help curb energy demand, clean up the environment and develop cleaner, greener cities.

Britain is seizing the opportunity to bring us closer to our smart city future – and it’s starting with a new smart meter in every home.

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