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The cities of the future will have their own energy policies

The chief executive of Smart Energy GB on how smart meters will help cities monitor their energy use.

The year is 2035. Britain’s great cities are powering the future. Millions of residents are driving electric vehicles and working in super-efficient buildings. Power generation is increasingly a local as well as a national matter, with more and more electricity coming from renewable sources and microgeneration.

In this vision of the future, vehicles and home appliances store as well as consume energy. They communicate seamlessly through the Internet of Things. Data generated by a smart energy grid allows city government to shift patterns of energy demand and carefully monitor and assist those in fuel poverty.

So is this vision realistic and achievable?

Smart Energy GB has just published a major report on the changing future energy demands in eleven major British cities. It’s the first time predictions about electricity and gas usage have been analysed and published at a city level.

The study – carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) – forecasts increases in electricity demand of more than 30 per cent in Bristol, Cardiff and London over the next 20 years.  

The other cities aren’t far behind, with demand driven by urban population increases, economic growth and a predicted surge in new technology, including electric vehicles.

Some cities are already preparing to address these challenges and seize the opportunities, too The Bristol Smart Energy City Collaboration is one impressive example: an alliance of local government, energy companies, university and sustainability teams, founded by the Centre for Sustainable Energy.

The Collaboration’s aspiration is to have a public-interest organisation established by 2020 to coordinate the smart distribution of heat and power across the city.


Using smart meter data, the Collaboration wants to develop the capability to balance energy demand and supply in real time, curb waste, reduce peak demand, boost energy efficiency and enhance the financial value of renewable generation.

Nottingham is another city in the vanguard of the smart power revolution. Nottingham Energy Partnership (NEP) is a fuel poverty and climate change charity delivering energy efficiency projects that cut energy bills and carbon emissions.

It has secured funding for a ground breaking solar battery storage project and has also just brought Nottinghamshire’s first community-owned solar farm to fruition.

Other cities are also making significant strides toward greater efficiency and smart power. But our new research suggests that progress will need to accelerate over the next decade.

The challenge was well framed by the National Infrastructure Commission’s “Smart Power” report published earlier this year. The Commission was clear that the smart meter rollout currently underway will play an essential role in making our cities ready for the future.

By 2020, every home and microbusiness in Britain will be offered a smart meter at no extra cost. The new digital meters indicate energy use in pounds and pence, and show exactly how much electricity and gas we are using at any time.

That’s great for households wanting to save money. But also – potentially – it’s an incredibly powerful resource for energy companies and local government.  

Smart meters will generate the data to inform our future energy infrastructure, allowing suppliers to manage increasingly complex flows as electrification becomes ever more dominant.

The rollout will provide a platform for innovation, with an increase in the number and variety of smart appliances communicating energy needs through the connected home.

Local organisations could, in future, collaborate with consumers, to be able to identify pockets of fuel poverty by seeing instantly when households “self-disconnect” because they can’t afford to heat their homes.

Because energy pressures are increasing faster in cities, mayors and city leaders could take the lead in developing these solutions.

Our study forecasts that demand in the 11 cities analysed (Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Cardiff, Sheffield, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and London) will all grow faster than the national average.

This is a major challenge and, in my view, the reason why we’ll increasingly see “city” as well as “national” energy policies and programmes.

The arrival of smart meters, delivering smart data, provides an enormous opportunity for local authorities working with energy suppliers, community groups and innovators, to create urban areas that are energy-responsive and energy-resilient.

That’s the smart approach our cities can now embrace.

Sacha Deshmukh is chief executive of Smart Energy GB.
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