With renewable energy costs plummeting and with the mass rollout of smart meters underway, we are much closer to the future of energy than you might think.
The necessity for us all to use energy more flexibly is becoming more acute, and one of those reasons is that energy demand is set to radically increase.
This will in part be caused by the move away from gas space heating and petrol and diesel fuelled cars. That means replacing gas with technologies such as heat pumps, and moving to electric vehicles, both of which use significant amounts of electricity.
According to National Grid, if electric vehicles are not charged smartly to avoid peaks in power demand, such as when people return home from work, peak demand could be much higher by 2030
Luckily, the technology to create a more flexible, smart energy system already exists. Smart meters will help the energy system better manage the supply and shift energy usage away from traditional peak times – which are currently reliant on fossil fuels.
And by doing so, households could be financially rewarded for using green powered energy when we need them to.
Imagine a world where you arrive home from work and plug in your electric vehicle, which has a charger programmed to charge your car when energy is cheapest. You turn on your TV, heating and cooker, all powered by the energy produced by your solar panels and stored in your car battery, and then check how much extra cash you’ve made through selling any unused energy you’ve generated back to the grid, or even peer-to-peer to your neighbours. In this world, we’re not reliant on dirty and inefficient power stations, which means our CO2 emissions are drastically reduced.
So, just how realistic is this vision?
Being partially off-grid might be a concept you have heard of in connection with people who live without relying on grid energy, but with the development of new technology and the growth of domestic renewable energy options such as solar panels, households will increasingly become a vital part of the grid itself and will reap financial benefits as a result.
Solar panels may not feature on your list of home improvements but you may be surprised to learn that over 840,000 UK homes already have them, with the cost falling by a huge 70 per cent since 2010, and they just keep on getting more affordable. Adding a battery to your solar panels is a great way to increase their benefits.
Put simply, a home battery allows you to store any excess from the electricity you generate for use later, when electricity is more expensive. As we can’t choose when the sun shines, the majority of people export more than half of their generated electricity back to the grid. With a battery, you can store this electricity until you need it.
Another way that we can use our homes as mini power stations is through electric vehicles. An electric car is basically a battery on wheels, and through a vehicle-to-grid charger (V2G), it can send power back to the grid when demand is high.
As an added bonus, if your car is used for V2G, you’ll get paid for the energy you send to the grid, making it even more cost effective to run.
At the heart of this are smart meters.
These clever devices are currently being rolled out across the country by energy suppliers as a replacement for old analogue energy meters.
On a basic level, they accurately monitor and show you what energy you’re using, when, and how much it costs in near real time. But they have the ability to do so much more, both now and in the future.
Smart meters are key to making this new energy future work well. They are the tool needed to reward customers for using energy flexibly – for example through providing super-cheap prices for using more energy when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. New energytariffs for homes with electric vehicle chargers or solar battery systems can deliver significant savings, with smart meters working with those technologies to help households use energy when it is cheapest.
And the benefits of domestic energy generation and storage don’t just stop at your front door.
On a national scale, as renewables grow to substantial levels and electricity demand reaches new heights, the energy grid will need ever greater flexibility, including the storage of electricity in homes and car batteries across the country. By creating, storing and selling their own electricity, households can help towards decarbonisation, and in doing so make a significant contribution to a cleaner, greener country.
One easy step we can all take towards this eco-friendly future is to ask energy suppliers about getting a smart meter installed – they’re the first step for consumers to really take control of their energy use and costs, and they’re a really easy way we can all contribute to a carbon-neutral world.