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Consumers are in the dark about smart grids

13 February 2012

Smart grids could play a key role in cutting energy bills and enabling a European low-carbon energy system, but consumers are still largely in the dark about what smart grids are, and of the benefits they offer. The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), the UK Government’s Science and Innovation Network and the UK Energy Generation and Supply Knowledge Transfer Network, jointly organised a workshop to discuss the policy, regulatory and social aspects of smart grids and applications.

The event was attended by key European experts from academia, government and industry, and its findings are summarised in a report of the event which is is now available for download (see below).

Consumers will pay for smart grids, but are unlikely to realise the potential cost savings if they do not understand or use the information available to them to reduce their energy demand, or switch to the most cost-effective tariff, the report warns, while opportunities for smart grids to reduce energy bills, and for consumers to become ‘prosumers’ who both generate and sell their own power, will require institutional change if they are to become a reality.

The workshop participants also raised concerns that the term ‘smart grid’ was not well understood, and called on decision-makers to demand a high standard of proof about smart grid claims in order to present a compelling case to customers about the benefits and opportunities on offer.

‘The smart grid clearly offers potential benefits to society’, comments Dr Jeff Hardy, Knowledge Exchange manager at UKERC, who edited the report. ‘It can improve the reliability of energy supply, enable the transition to low-carbon energy systems, and play a role in mitigating climate change. However, these may not be apparent to the consumer, who, in the worst case scenario, could foot the bill for the smart grid and perceive no benefits at all.

There are a myriad of actors involved in developing the smart grid, and they are all at different stages and may even be in competition. Certainly, they are not all speaking the same technical language.

This workshop represents an important first step in bringing this diverse community together and sharing best practice and experience, however, increased collaboration and knowledge exchange at the local, national, European and international levels is required in the future’.

The report calls for a common forum for all those involved in developing aspects of the smart grid to share information, particularly in the areas of technology development, technology integration, system integration, market integration and full smart grid roll out. It also recommends that the regulators concentrate on regulating the functions of the smart grid, rather than the technological solutions to achieving that function.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded here.



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