The European smart metering program

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The Dutch government has invested €3.3 billion to ensure network companies will have installed smart meters in all households by 2020, but how has this affected the smart meter roll-out?

Smart energy meters are currently being rolled out across Europe as part of an EU programme. The programme is part of a broader energy transition and aims to save energy by changing customer behaviour. The programme is supported by a large body of independent research. An authoritative report of the international energy think tank VaasaETT shows that smart metering in combination with in-house displays (IHD) can yield energy savings of close to 9%.

How smart meters are rolled out, how much a government contributes and what the market is required to deliver is up to the individual member states. In Britain, energy retailers are obligated to supply their customers with in-house displays. France has introduced subsidies for supplying displays to low income households. In the Netherlands the distribution of displays and interfaces is left to the market.

Obligations or government subsidies to distribute displays, as in Britain or France, won’t necessarily be successful, said Caiger-Smith. Obligatory installations have the disadvantage that displays will also end up in households that aren’t interested in using them, which reduces the efficiency of the rollout. The market will be able to speed up the distribution of displays and other interfaces, he said, provided the will to effectively collaborate is there within the market and between the market and the government.

Smart metering in the Netherlands

The Dutch government has invested €3.3 billion to ensure network companies will have installed smart meters in all households by 2020. Some 40 per cent of seven million households now have their smart meters, which should have changed consumer behaviour in such a way that this resulted in energy savings of on average 3.5%, plus a related significant decrease of CO2 emissions and an €880 million reduction of the national annual energy bill. However, a recent survey conducted by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL or Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving) shows the savings in homes with smart meters have not been higher than 1%. PBL has drawn the conclusion that large-scale introduction of in-home displays that make data accessible is the most likely option to succeed in raising energy savings to the desired level.

The Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl) has criticised the way consumer access to smart meters is currently being created. The available devices to read data from these meters offer limited functionality.

See Voortgangsrapportage invoering slimme meter in Nederland

The Internet of Energy

The smart energy meter registers electricity and gas usage. It allows consumers to make smart decisions on the basis of the data they read on a display or in an app that is connected to the meter’s P1 gate. A basic app can show and analyse historic usage – not unlike the calculations the consumer is able to perform with a pocket calculator and a little ingenuity on the basis of his detailed energy bill. But that is just the first of many possibilities: what’s now coming within reach is a system of true energy management, which adds visibility and controllability to both the usage and the generation of energy from wind, solar and geothermal heat.

This energy manager of the future will control the hybrid house, which runs on energy that is partially generated locally. It’s a control device that calculates when to charge the car batteries or, when the car is not being used, when to use power from these batteries in the household. When energy pricing becomes variable, the energy manager will decide when to buy energy from the grid, when to supply energy back into the grid and when to start the dishwasher or any of the other household appliances.

geo’s current generation energy managers already provide some of the functionality described above, and new generations are under development that will meet the future requirements of energy management. Consumers should be gradually introduced to energy management tools as they are being developed, says geo CEO Patrick Caiger-Smith. They should be given the time they need to learn what’s possible and familiarise themselves with the technology. This means that energy management systems will gradually step up the level of integrated functionality.