Energy efficiency: Smart meters -so how smart are they really?

So there I was, first week of my new job with the National Trust, and meeting a property manager for the first time to discuss environmental management. A key date now that I think about it.

After pleasantries “hello, nice to meet you”, came the $60’000 question – “how am I to meet my energy reduction target when i never see a bill before it is paid?” the challenge, although unspoken was clear, come up with a way to allow me to monitor and manage my energy usage simply or never darken my door again!

Keith and I got our thinking caps on.

•  We developed an online meter monitoring system which allowed reads to be entered on a monthly basis. This data was then forwarded to the utility companies so that we moved from 90 percent estimated bills to only having 3 in the whole of Wales.

•  The second part was to trial the use of Automatic Meter Readers or “smart meters” in high usage properties, as well as those meters which were difficult to access.

“Smart” meters look exactly the same as a normal manually read meter, the difference being that they omit a pulse. These pulses are counted by  the automatic meter reader and the total number of pulses per 1/2 hour can be plotted to show consumption data

In total we incorporated over 100 AMR’s to provide 1/2 hourly monitoring data for electricity, gas, oil (and water).

We also agreed to collect this data initially for 2 years.The first year would highlight areas where savings could be made – why is there a spike in electricity use at 2.30am every night?

The second years monitoring would provide the evidence of efficiencies following training, changes to operating practices, and the incorporation of equipment such as low energy lighting and voltage optimisation.

The results were telling –

•  40 percent reduction in energy usage across National Trust properties in Wales.

•  Consistent monthly data submissions from property staff above 93 percent.

•  A move from estimated billing to actual usage being billed

•  Confirmation of business case “spend to save” capital outlay.

•  A stronger position to tender for equipment purchase as we could ask for guarantee of performance against quantifiable reduction monitoring.

•  Lower cost to Wales properties for the purchase of power based on “flexible” power purchase tariffs (we know what we use, how much we use, and when we use it) so can negotiate better tariff rates with the power companies.

In answer to the question “how smart are smart meters really?” the answer is simple.

An AMR on its own does not save you a penny, nor does it miraculously reduce the amount of energy you use.

The smart bit is using the data that is collected to highlight opportunities and anomalies, to focus attention and to monitor how effective efficiency measures which have been incorporated actually are.

You can have the best data in the world but what’s the point if you do not use it.

AMR installation process

The property manager i mentioned has now retired, and 4 years on we are still working closely with property staff to monitor, manage and reduce usage. The “smart meters” are one of the tools we still use to highlight, track and confirm we are using our energy as efficiently as possible.

Thank you Joan.

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