The benefits of smart grids still need to be communicated to industry and consumers in the UK, even though there is clearly an appetite for energy-sector change, according to a new report by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC).
According to the study, various key issues have yet to be tackled in preparing for the “smart” revolution, including low levels of public understanding, misuse of data and concerns that energy suppliers will be able to remotely control home appliances.
There are also fundamental difficulties in predicting how smart grids will develop over time, notes UKERC.
Above all, smart grids face what UKERC calls a “chicken and egg problem” – that is, there is little incentive to develop them until smart technologies are more widely used, and yet increased deployment of those technologies will require smarter systems in order to maintain a reliable supply of electricity.
UKERC’s research – which was based on a mixture of expert and public feedback – identifies four possible smart-grid scenarios, ranging from a world dominated by gas with little smart-grid development (so-called “Minimum Smart”) to one in which renewables and electric vehicles are strongly “incentivized”.
“Minimum Smart” turned out to be the least popular scenario with the public, with support from just 8% of respondents, while the most popular, with 53% support, was the “Groundswell” scenario, in which a large amount of electricity is generated by households and through community-led schemes.
According to UKERC, respondents backed “Groundswell” because it showed strong commitment to renewable energy and offered consumers an opportunity to reduce their energy bills.
The study was carried out by teams from the universities of Westminster, Brunel, Cardiff, Exeter and Nottingham.
“The UK’s electricity grid is fast becoming outdated, as new technologies and new behaviours change the way we use and supply power,” said Nazmiye Balta-Ozkan of the University of Westminster’s Policy Studies Institute. “Our increased use of intermittent renewables and electric vehicles will require more intelligent ways of managing and delivering energy. But energy suppliers and the government need to be switched on to consumer concerns about this transition.”