Smart meter energy data: Exploring the public interest agenda

Research on how the data can be used at different scales

Project duration: July 2015 to March 2016

Most discussion on the imminent explosion in smart energy data resulting from the roll out of domestic smart meters has centred on its use in consumer feedback, in enabling the future smart grid, and the potential for commercial exploitation. Using the data to serve wider societal goals – the public interest – has received less attention.

That was the impetus behind a joint research challenges, issued in Summer 2015 by charities Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) and Sustainability First with funding from TEDDINET. We wanted to understand how future household smart-meter energy data might be used to serve public interest – so we posed the following questions:

  • What’s new about smart meter data, compared to what’s already out there?
  • What could smart-meter data be used for in public-interest terms?
  • How will proposed data-access (and other) arrangements affect possible data uses?
  • What might need to change to better facilitate use of smart meter data for public interest purposes?
  • What are the obstacles, risks, challenges to making such arrangements?
  • What practical next steps could be recommended?

Two short discussion papers have arisen from this challenge.

Simon Elam (University College London) looked at how new household smart-meter data could serve the public interest agenda from a national perspective. He has also written a technical annex on currently available energy consumption data for GB households, and the data available at regional and local levels.

Jess Britton (University of Exeter) investigated the use of new household smart meter data to serve public policy and the public interest agenda from a devolved, regional and local perspective. Smart grids and non-traditional business models were a focus of this work.

The papers point to a number of uses which have broader public interest (c.f. commercial or pure consumer interest) applications. These include:

Households get better targeted advice on all matters ‘energy’, be it information on the cheapest time to run their washing machine (and maximise its value to the system), or how to alter their energy use pattern to suit the power gained from solar panels.

For Government, there will be an abundance of demand-side data to use in energy models, to help inform policy and to better target and evaluate interventions. Policy areas that could benefit include: energy efficiency, on-site generation, carbon emission reduction monitoring and fuel poverty alleviation. More accurate data, when combined with other sources of data about households, would also provide a better grasp of the distributional impacts of energy policies.

Other energy actors – local government, housing associations or not-for-profit organisations like CSE – could use the data to support community energy projects or to encourage the smart use, distribution and supply of heat and power for the benefit of local citizens.

The latter is the focus of CSE’s Bristol Smart Energy City Collaboration, in which we’re exploring the potential applications of smart energy data for public interest at the city scale. It is also establishing how a city like Bristol should organise to use smart energy data to support local energy schemes, to target energy efficiency improvements and to plan and develop infrastructure for heat generation, housing development and electric vehicles.

The two research papers, which both include executive summaries, explore these issues in more depth. They also outline a set of recommendations and practical steps that would make public interest applications of smart energy data more prominent in future policy-making, and easier to integrate into existing and future practices. Both authors propose the immediate establishment of a Public Interest Advisory Group to help realise these recommendations.

For further information contact:

Joshua Thumim | 0117 934 1439

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