In a week that British politicians have looked far from smart when it comes to the issue of monitoring - the expense claims of MPs spring to mind - it is somewhat ironic that the UK government set out plans to have new smart meters installed in all 26 million UK homes by 2020 to monitor energy consumption.
Government officials estimate that the project would deliver net benefits of £2.5 billion to £3.6 billion over the next two decades, in the form of lower bills and reduced costs for energy firms. And the new potential for volume sales should also be good news for power management device suppliers in the electronics industry.
Smart meters open up the possibility of using smart grid technologies and should help manage the electric car recharging infrastructure that the UK government's plans to introduce to support the increased use of electric vehicles in future.
The installation of smart meters should also mean the end of estimated gas and electricity bills which have a reputation not unlike British politicians at the moment.
Centrica, the UK's largest energy supplier, claims that replacing the UK's 47 million gas and electricity meters with new smart meters will lead to households using less energy, helped by real time cost information on screen in the home as well as helping to save money by using domestic appliances at cheaper off-peak times. Centrica's British Gas division is currently running the largest smart meter trial in the country with almost 50,000 homes and businesses using the technology.
One of the UK's smaller energy companies, First Utility, has already installed smart meters in the homes of its 10,000 customers.
Under the UK government's consultation proposals, energy companies will be responsible for the supply and installation of the new meters but a new central government body is expected be set up to handle the nationwide transmission and management of the data. The government is also considering two alternative approaches, which would either see individual energy companies manage all aspects of smart metering, or require the establishment of regional franchises to handle the installation of the meters while the data is managed by a new national body.
The three proposals will be open to consultation until 24 July 2009 and are likely to further fuel a long-running debate among energy firms about how best to roll out the technology.
The estimated cost of the smart meter roll-out programme is £7bn which equates to about £15 per household per year between 2010 and 2020.
Experts calculate that the average consumer is likely to reduce their energy use by two to three percent each year, which should cut £25 to £35 off their bills. The result is that households could prove better off to the tune of more than £20 a year if everything goes according to plan. Fingers crossed then because things going to plan does not often equate with government-based initiatives.
I for one look forward to the day that truly smart meters can be used to monitor exactly what our politicians are getting up to every minute of the day. I doubt I will be impressed with what we discover though, do you?
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