Energy minister Lord Hunt is expected to reveal tomorrow (3 December 2009) whether the government prefers a centralised or regional model for the £10bn roll-out of smart meters and a smart grid to control energy consumption in the UK.
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The government is expected to unveil its assessment of the energy industry's plans to set up a smart network "grid" to handle the data communications between meters in the UK's 26 million homes, shops and offices, and energy distribution firms.
The so-called "smart grid" is essential to allow energy firms to understand and control how and when consumers use energy, and for home energy generators to sell power back to the distributors.
The project requires the replacement of some 47 million gas and electric meters which will be connected to central or regional databases by 2020. The aim is to get consumers to use less energy and so cut carbon emissions.
However, the government's own business plan suggests energy companies will be the biggest beneficiaries as they will no longer need to hire meter readers to get accurate consumption records.
Consumers would also benefit from more accurate bills and the ability to change suppliers more quickly.
The Conservative Party has criticised the long roll-out period, saying the country needs smart meters more quickly.
Rick Hanks, who leads consultancy Accenture UK's smart meter and smart grid practice, said he hoped the government would mandate in-home meter displays. This would give consumers the information they needed to transform their energy demand, he said.
"The success of smart meters depends on how well utilities engage with customers to change their energy habits," he said.
Hanks hoped utilities would deploy meters that worked with smart grids. "Only then can we successfully manage electric vehicles, domestic generation or the uptake of renewables," he said.
Referring to the timetable, he said the industry was expecting demand to exceed supply between 2014 to 2017. This could lead to brown-outs or even blackouts. "We expect the industry to be ready for mass deployment by 2013, so full deployment by 2016 is possible, albeit challenging," he said.