Energy consumption may become smart thanks to new renewable plan

25-04-2022 | By Robin Mitchell

A joint plan being launched by major energy companies and the start-up Granular will allow customers to see what times renewable energy generation is at its highest while offering lower rates at these times. Why are modern smart meters not smart, how will the new plan work, and how will this allow for the creation of truly smart devices and meters?

Why smart meters are not smart

This is not the first time here at Electropages where we have moaned about how smart meters are being advertised incorrectly and that they are far from being smart devices. Generally speaking, a device is considered smart if it can react intelligently to data in real-time time and has some form of network capability. For example, a smart AC system would set the temperature based on the current use of a room, who is in the room, and the preference of the individuals. Furthermore, it would be able to control the temperature on predicted use, and such predictions would come from user behaviour and plans.

While Smart Meters are connected to the internet, their ability to be smart doesn’t go beyond reporting data back to the homeowner via a fancy display and the current usage to the utility supplier. Such devices do not connect to other devices across a local network to determine the best time to consume electricity and control devices, nor do they make spending decisions based on the current tariff rate. At the end of the day, the average “smart meter” is just a digital meter that can be viewed in the kitchen or bedroom.

Joint plan will help customers see when renewable energy is available

One of renewable energy’s most significant challenges by far is that its availability is extremely volatile, and there is no way of storing unused energy for later use. For example, a very windy day will see wind energy peak, and this peak can very quickly be far more than the current energy demand. At this moment, the energy that could otherwise be put to use is being wasted, and there is no existing mechanism that allows consumers to detect this overproduction of energy.

Another challenge with energy is the rising costs of gas and oil due to COVID, inflation, and the Ukraine war. The energy delivered to consumers could be entirely from renewable energy, yet consumers will be charged a fixed rate based on the price of oil and gas. Thus, significant savings from using renewable energy are not being passed on to consumers.

To address these challenges, a new start-up company called Granular has teamed up with major energy suppliers, including the National Grid and Elexon, to install a system that shows consumers the current availability of renewable energy. Furthermore, consumers who use power during times of excess energy production from renewables will be able to do so at a discounted rate.

The idea is that by showing consumers when energy is at its cheapest in real-time, consumers will try to shift their energy usage during these peak times, reducing the overall electrical load when energy is mostly coming from fossil fuels. Thus, not only can consumers save money, but companies trying to demonstrate their carbon-neutral practices can more easily do so.

How will live renewable reporting help to create truly smart meters?

If consumers can be informed in real-time of when renewable energy is available, then so can smart meters. If combined with a small battery storage solution and networked devices around the home, a smart meter could make spending decisions for consumers entirely on its own to try and minimise energy bills.

For example, a homeowner could fill their washing machine and set the washing machine to clean when signalled to do so. While away from home, the smart meter detects that energy production has peaked and engages the washing machine automatically. By the time the homeowner returns home, the washing is done, and their bill has been minimised.

Another example would be the use of electric storage heating. When energy production is at its highest, the smart meter can signal storage heaters to start operating. This heat can then be easily released into the home during the night where it is needed the most, and this will help reduce the cost of bills.

It is clear that smart meters could be made to do so much more, and the ability to see when energy is at its cheapest in real-time can help reduce reliance on fossil fuels while making the most of renewables.


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.