’Smart living’ in Wales

Workshops to develop a smart living programme for the Welsh Government

CSE, along with AD Research and Analysis, provided the Welsh Government with support and critique on how best to progress their ‘smart living’ agenda.

Home technology, and its connectedness, is changing rapidly. This is being driven by commercial interests, evolving technology, and by the needs of the electricity grid. These changes are bringing about a need for network reinforcement and infrastructure alterations, and are ultimately leading to a new way of living. The Welsh Government sees it as their duty to implement a version of ‘smart living’ that delivers for the people of Wales; one that assists vulnerable people and increases equity rather than deepening inequalities.

Following a review of an existing draft framework, we held workshops to examine the rationale for the Welsh government’s involvement in ‘smart’ initiatives, and to work out what it would mean in practice to promote smart living.

What is smart?

Welsh government’s smart living framework has divided the world of ‘smart’ into three domains of technology and connectedness. Of course they are not discrete; they are all linked in a network, but each domain describes a different area of the network.

A smart user refers to households and organisations equipped with smart technologies, embedded in systems that enable them to gain extra functions from connectedness with wider infrastructure.

Connected assets refers to technologies and systems that are connected in a way that allows sources of energy and sources of demand to be distributed between them – buildings, energy hubs, waste heat and so on.

Smart Grid is the responsive two-way energy distribution system that glues everything together. Some of the systems proposed in smart grids link smart users to energy supply and energy demand. Others don’t directly involve the users, but build grid resilience and optimise efficiencies – e.g. turning surplus electrical energy from a wind farm into potential energy by pumping water to a reservoir.

One concept, lots of definitions

There is some consensus that smart living involves machines ‘talking to’ machines to improve efficiency, with knock-on environmental benefits. But beyond this there are diverging visions. These range from the more dystopian – where technological advances increase surveillance and allow citizens to be manipulated and controlled – to ones that put people at the heart of the system i.e. technology that allows people to talk to people, and fosters greater citizenship and creativity. Examples of activities that fall into this second definition might be: feeding back on the quality of services or the state of roads, adopting a more sustainable and healthy lifestyle, volunteering for social initiatives, or supporting minority groups.

Our workshops for the government

The workshops were designed to work out what kind of smart living the Welsh government wants to encourage. They were introduced with two alternative scenarios. Either, that the development of smart living is left to market forces and other actors, or alternatively, that government has an active role in directing and co-ordinating the development and roll out of ‘smart living’ in a way that steers it towards a people-centric vision.

The clear conclusion from both Welsh government workshops was that the second scenario was the right approach. Given this, three recommendations for the way forward were drawn from workshops and the review of the existing framework:

i) to further develop a Smart Living Framework that sets out the government’s vision of the kind of smart living that it would like to see, and will encourage. This will mostly be expressed as a set of principles and processes, recognising that smart living will be different in each place where it is achieved.

ii) a technical group to provide practical advice, connections and resources to make smart living happen.

iii) a Smart Living Roadmap to act as a tool for reporting on progress and pointing the way ahead. This rolling report would demonstrate progress and impacts achieved to date, respond to calls for co-ordination of smart living activities occuring in different parts of Wales, and begin to answer questions about what a smart Wales will look like in the future.

CSE has previously undertaken projects that employ new energy technologies for the benefit of the consumer. These provide useful insights to apply to this work. For example, Less is More was a project that looked at the best methods to encourage householders to reduce, or shift, their electricity use away from peak times. Besides savings at the domestic level, such changes to energy use patterns delay the need for expensive upgrades to local substations. Another project, Chariot (still ongoing) involves collecting household energy-use data so that more targeted energy saving advice can be delivered to improve the living conditions of those involved.

Image: flickr, Pat Kight, reproduced under a Creative Commons license.

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