In this penultimate article within our Opportunities & Challenges In The Energy Sector 2023 series, we’ll be looking at the ways in which our digital and physical worlds are intertwined and delving into the uses of IoT-connected smart energy products, both on a small and large scale.
So far throughout the series, we’ve mentioned a few common smart home devices that use AI and predictive pattern matching to personalise experiences (such as the Google Nest Learning Thermostat and the Hive Home range); however, IoT (internet of things) technologies can not only manage how we use energy but also how we generate and store it.
During the hotter months of the year, homes with solar panels can over-produce electricity far in excess of what the home requires. Instead of wasting this energy, companies created ways to store it, for example, Tesla created the Powerwall energy store and by mid-2021, they’d installed over 200,000 Powerwall devices in residential areas. By using connected technology, the Powerwall together with the Backup Gateway can also detect changes in the grid and become a home’s sole energy source in the case of a blackout, as well as helping reduce energy bills by creating a more self-sustaining home.
Similarly, the introduction of smart meters can improve transparency around how energy is used and provide useful analytics to help energy providers make better-informed decisions and analyse usage patterns to help reduce waste. This technology has already been used in America to help tailor service plans to customers’ electrical or water utility and improve client satisfaction. Additionally, businesses can use smart meters and smart sensors around office buildings to regulate temperature, control the lights, and detect if someone is using a space to optimise resources accordingly. This can be used to help businesses achieve their green energy rating or relevant certification and make them more eligible for related schemes and grants to further improve their internal operations.
Connected technology can also optimise whole cities to make them more accessible by providing real-time information such as available parking or street closures (similar technology is already being used by Google Maps to show areas with traffic congestion). IoT can also facilitate the collection of data from nearby smart sensors to provide better integration with assistive technology and improve audio, visual, and tactile information to help users better interpret their surroundings.
The use of sensors can also make cities cleaner – for example, smart bins can send alerts when they need to be emptied, which not only optimises route planning for collections, but also improves areas visually and minimises pavement obstruction, reduces unpleasant odours, and deters pests. In one test case, Newcastle City Council introduced 1,200 smart bins across the city which resulted in a 50% reduction in the resources required to manage bins and bin collections, as well as a 51% decline in complaints from residents. An analysis by Vodafone estimated that if all councils across the country adopted the same smart bin policy, the UK could reduce its annual CO2 emissions by around 40,000 tonnes, or the equivalent of removing 7,600 cars from Britain’s roads. The smart bin scheme was also a major contributing factor in the decision to name Newcastle the Smart City of the Year 2019, and a fantastic example of the benefits of adopting IoT technology.
Alongside this, the introduction of smart grids across the UK can allow for better resource and infrastructure management through two-way communication between all the technologies connected to the grid. For example, as sensors in smart meters can accurately report energy demand in real-time, when a surge in demand appears, energy can be redistributed to prevent outages, and the whole network can work together to route resources, rather than using a centralised system.
Using IoT technology, smart grids can become smart cities and allow for better maintenance of infrastructure and better allocation of resources during peak times. Advanced sensors, such as in street lighting, can send alerts immediately if a light is damaged or flag a developing fault – helping improve response times for repairs and reducing overall downtime to improve safety. Additionally, machine learning can help provide better adaptive technologies which respond to changing weather conditions or time of day, e.g. instead of street lights automatically turning on at 5pm, they can turn on when light levels reach a certain threshold; or when it’s foggy the light intensity can automatically increase to improve visibility and road safety for vehicles and pedestrians.
With the ever-evolving requirements of connected technology, many people are understandably concerned about the impact this will have on our electrical grid, and whether enough clean energy will be available to meet growing demand sustainably moving forward, especially with the rise of EVs. To learn more, we spoke with Dr Russell Fowler, Transport Decarbonisation Expert at National Grid and he said:
“A big part of managing demand for electricity, including through increased EV uptake, is making sure enough power is available – a job Britain’s electricity system operator (ESO) manages second-by-second. Through smart charging EVs can in fact help to balance the system, helping consumers use green power when it’s plentiful and avoid times when there’s more load on the network. Vehicle-to-grid technology could even send that power back to the grid when needed.
“Apps that give you a carbon intensity forecast for the grid – our free WhenToPlugIn app – will tell you when Britain’s electricity mix will be cleanest, and therefore when to put your car on charge to make the most of that low carbon power.
“Another crucial aspect in meeting electricity demand is ensuring the grid’s wires have enough capacity to carry the power needed. Our job at National Grid Electricity Transmission is to work with the distribution networks, government, the regulator, and industry to provide the green energy infrastructure around the country – the wires, the connections to charge points – to support the needs of a decarbonised transport network.”
On the topic of infrastructure and maintenance, Dr Russell Fowler also added:
“We spend £1.3 billion on the grid each year to upgrade and adapt it to make it fit for the future. This includes investing in and managing existing infrastructure so that it can be used as efficiently as possible to enable growth in network capacity, for example in readiness for new EV infrastructure over the coming years. Technologies we’re using include the likes of LineVision and Smart Wires, both of which boost the capability of our existing electricity transmission network.”
Find out more about how technology is changing the energy sector and helping provide better services to clients throughout our article series, or contact our team to start your project.
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