Last reviewed 9 October 2018

As smart meters continue their expansion across the domestic market, does smart metering technology continue to develop in the commercial sector? Dave Howell asks if smart meters are delivering on their promise.

A recent report from MPs has thrown doubt on the tangible benefits that smart meters could make to the millions of domestic households across the UK, with a claim that a paltry £11 a year may be the only saving available. The smart meter scheme aims to place these meters into the UK’s 30 million homes and businesses by 2020 at a cost of £11 billion; this report raises some doubt about the scheme’s validity.

With several investigations ongoing by the public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office led by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), environment managers could be forgiven for thinking their use of smart meter technology could also be flawed.

The European perspective

As CO2 emission reduction continues to be a major driver across all sectors, data gathering through smart meters and other technologies is seen as vital. Earlier this year, the European Parliament gave its final approval to the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. This package is a key element of one of the Juncker Commission’s priorities to offer, “a resilient Energy Union and a forward-looking climate change policy”.

The Vice-President of the Energy Union, Maroš Šefčovič, said: “By renovating and making our buildings in Europe smarter, we are attaining several simultaneous objectives: lower energy bills, better health, protection of the environment and reduction of our emissions in the EU, given that over a third of these are produced by buildings. And as technology has blurred the distinction between sectors, we are also establishing a link between buildings and e-mobility infrastructure, and helping stabilise the electricity grid. Another building block of the Energy Union has been laid today, let us continue ahead.”

Building and maintaining smart real estate has been an ongoing project for decades. Smart cities that use information gathering in the built environment to deliver services to their citizens are evolving. From a business perspective, tapping into these networks could be beneficial. One component is to clearly understand and act upon data related to energy consumption.

How “smart” are smart meters?

How “smart” smart meters actually are, and what they can offer to environment and facilities managers is a complex question to answer. The ability to simply see the quantities of energy being used at any given time is clearly useful data, but it is how this information is then used that should be the focus for environment managers.

With smart metering continuing to be debated and as environment managers also continue to be tasked with reducing energy costs, improving emissions and supporting corporate social responsibility (CSR) ambitions, Croner-i Environment and Sustainability spoke with Paul Djuric, CEO, Urgent Technology, to ask whether he thinks smart metering technology is delivering on its promises.

In the context of facilities and environment managers, how vital has smart metering technology become?

“Smart metering belongs to a new wave of smart technology that is transforming the role of facilities and environment managers. The shift from estimation-based billing to real time usage-based billing provides organisations with more accurate data to manage their energy consumption and improve operational efficiency.

“By feeding precise data from smart meters into reporting tools and dashboards of computer-aided facility management (CAFM) systems, managers are able to develop greater predictive analytics and modelling capabilities in order to assess trends and patterns in areas such as energy usage. The data amassed helps facilities and environment managers to reduce asset maintenance and replacements and the costly downtime that can result. Spotting trends in the data can also help to identify and curb wasteful usage habits.”

Are there any pressure points when using smart meters across an estate to enhance environmental protection you can point to?

“In general, devising retrofit and integration strategies for emerging technologies is one if not the biggest challenges in the built environment. Large swathes of UK real estate are old, and much of the existing building stock has poor EPC ratings — which makes the running of buildings designed without smart technology and data analytics in mind difficult.”

Are environment managers able to make full use of the data they are collecting? Do detailed analytical systems and services exist to help them support their environment and sustainability goals?

“The short answer is no, not yet. Our own research has found that only a quarter of facilities management industry professionals believe they are adequately prepared to take advantage of the data now at their disposal without additional training.

“New technologies are increasing the demands on facilities and environmental managers. Almost every industry now recognises the power and potential that large volumes of data contain, and the need for data analysts and other tech-savvy professionals to transform data into insight that improves business performance. According to research by the British Institute of Facilities Management, a significant percentage of facilities management professionals believe the discipline will soon undergo a ‘digital reinvention’, after which facilities management will be more about data science and analytics and involve fewer people. The automation provided by smart meters is testament to this.”

With the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) sector about to have an impact on estate management, how will smart metering evolve as buildings become smarter and begin to use more automation to support better environmental protection?

“Research by Gartner estimates the number of IoT devices to reach 20 billion by 2020, resulting in almost £15 trillion in cost savings and profits. With this exponential growth, the same technology in smart meters will connect a staggering number of devices and assets within the built environment, giving facilities and environmental managers a far more detailed picture of their surroundings. This, too, will shed invaluable light on how various assets behave and how they impact each other.

“In the future, it is no exaggeration to say that smart technology will connect entire cities — the bigger the network, the better the data, the more accurate prediction and modelling capabilities. This also creates the potential for far greater energy savings and environmental protection as a result of the deeper understanding of asset behaviour and resource usage trends.”

What does the future of smart metering for environment managers look like from an environment perspective?

“As the custodians of the data that smart meters produce, both disciplines will gain a greater strategic say within their organisations. We are, however, witnessing the roles of the facilities manager and environment manager merge into one. Given the legislative and CSR demands now placed on organisations, sustainability has climbed to the top of the corporate agenda and facilities managers are tasked with making sure targets are met.

“As smart meters automate more and more processes, facilities managers will be able to dedicate more time and investment in crucial areas such as behavioural change in the workplace. The data derived from smart meters is useless if a building’s occupiers are not educated on the value of changing behaviours and the savings this can create. Smart meters provide more accurate data on energy usage, but for now only people can ensure energy usage is reduced. It is counterproductive to install smart meters if, for example, employees forget to turn lights off when they leave a room or keep windows open during the colder months.”

Conclusion

Clearly, a more integrated approach to smart metering is needed to fully unlock their potential. Currently, smart meters can be used to gain some insights into estate performance. However, environment managers and their facilities colleagues are some way from a fully incorporated system that they can rely upon to place energy usage data into their wider management metrics and analysis.

For more information on smart meters, and other ways of managing energy usage see our Heating and Ventilation topic.