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Our Head of Marketing James Palmer, who has several years’ experience related to developing such technologies and their routes to market, talks through the potential he sees that connected devices could bring in terms of flexibility for the grid, personal convenience, and benefit for your pocket…

Imagine the scenario; you pull into your drive, parking your electric vehicle over your wireless charging plate and walk to your front door – which unlocks automatically because it recognises you.  You are welcomed home by your home’s computer, the heating has already reached the temperature you feel comfortable at, the lights in the hall are already illuminated and the kettle is just about to boil!  All of which has been powered by your home battery, which has been charged by your solar panels throughout the day, because your smart meter selected that as the best option for today, versus a more expensive tariff.

This sort of scenario may sound quite futuristic, something straight out of the Jetsons, but the elements exist already to make this happen – albeit some are at a relatively early stage of market readiness.  What knits it all together is software and Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, which will also unlock the biggest potential as all the elements converge… “the sum of all the parts is greater than the whole”.

A lot of the elements are already deployed through emerging, bespoke smart buildings management systems in commercial premises.  Organisations with larger footprints, or those with energy intensive processes have significantly more to gain from energy management implementation.  These organisations are also positioned to support the grid with flexibility.  Our energy system is at breaking point and demand management is the most clear and obvious way to minimise the risk of power outages.  We are in the midst of a climate crisis and better energy management is one of the easiest ways to minimise our impact – be that individually or organisationally.

From an individual perspective, with previous experience specifically related to the smart meter roll out and connected heating systems, the biggest barrier to customer uptake was that the public just didn’t care enough about their heating or energy savings to engage.  Other than a small proportion of the market, people have other day-to-day priorities that take precedence over who their energy supplier is, how they heat their homes, how much it costs them etc.  The key aspect that captured most people’s attention was that, with a “smart thermostat”, their central heating was connected and controllable from their mobile phone – nothing to do with saving money, but all to do with better convenience.

Some concepts that looked likely to take consumer interest to new levels involved far more than just turning the heating up or down.  Ideas like –

  • the heating turning itself on when you are within a certain distance of your property (obviously wouldn’t have much benefit with lockdown!),
  • having a “lockdown” button or using a geofence that ensures all non-essential appliances are switched off when you leave your home or go to bed (thus ensuring all nonessentials are not consuming power and nothing is left running that shouldn’t be e.g., “did I leave the iron on!?”),
  • being able to totally zone your home heating by room to ensure you aren’t heating rooms you aren’t using (e.g., not heating the bedrooms until your normal bedtime),

All of which result in only very small savings, and in some cases giving the consumer more information and control resulted in their bills increasing as they became able to better control their own comfort levels!  To ask customers to pay an additional monthly cost for “suggested” or “assumed” savings does not wash with much of the population.  This is particularly true when it is being paid to their energy supplier who have a very poor brand trust level.

The result is that the ultimate position is to have an intelligent system that predicts, forecasts and decides how to control the various elements in your home without the householder having to think about it – but they can if they wish to intervene!

  • A system that learns based on the householder’s behaviours and can forecast / predict when they might need to use certain appliances.  Most humans are creatures of habit and, excluding significant life changes (having a child, children leaving home, going into lockdown…) general living habits are relatively similar on a week-by-week basis.
  • A system that decides if it is better to heat your entire hot water tank with gas central heating, or to only heat the top of the tank with electricity powering the immersion heater.
  • A system that knows what the current smart tariff price is and if it should draw from the grid or utilise the stored power within a plugged-in electric vehicle or home battery.
  • A system that can decide if the price is right to sell electricity back to the grid from the solar panels on the roof or in their EV or in a battery, or to use the power they are producing or have stored for the home.
  • A system that can decide if the behaviours of the householder predict that they can delay certain appliances from running until a forecast cheaper tariff period coming to their smart meter (this could be aligned to network demands to help balance the grid).
  • A system with a weather forecasting capability to help householders to wash their clothes when the weather is going to be nice to put it out on the line to dry instead of using the tumble dryer and to maximise the generation from solar panels to run appliances that aren’t time sensitive.
  • A system that can identify poorly performing appliances and suggest a potential payback period and optimal time to buy if a newer more efficient model were purchased.
  • A system that can learn the algorithms and usage profiles of your home and the electricity consuming devices to integrate with an energy provider to create a truly itemised bill.

Ultimately, any individual home has an insignificant impact on the demands of the electricity grid.  However, when more devices in a home start to be integrated and a greater number of homes in a locality start participating, the effect on balancing the grid really starts to take hold.  The positive impact on the environment is also strengthened.

The consumer market is alive with innovation at the moment, Ovo Energy’s recent announcement about a trial linking a customer’s smart meter to a smart thermostat is yet another example of such innovation.  Such trials are at the leading edge of interoperability, and standards will surely follow once benefits are proven and systems mature.  At the centre (utilities) there is a need to be able to deal with lots of these systems, pulling all the data together, and that is what AMT-SYBEX does – we make the complicated simple.

AMT-SYBEX’s Networkflow product is an intelligent energy management tool that has been developed originally to help Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) to become Distribution System Operators (DSOs).  It gives the UK energy market the forecasting capability and flexibility it needs to increase local capacity on the network and to keep up with future demands.  The principles behind this concept hold true across the entire electricity system, be that with large industrial and commercial businesses to harness their flexible capacity, right down to smaller SME businesses and even domestic homes.  Our aim is to help the traditional distribution system model, which is not sustainable with future demands, to ensure the grid will operate even more efficiently through the shifting of energy usage in businesses and homes.  Our intention is to use our software to help our partners by simplifying these complicated concepts, and in doing so help our clients to create a more sustainable planet.

There is a very exciting future around the utilities industry and AMT-SYBEX plans to be at the forefront of it by providing the robust technology that underpins market activities, be that Market Interaction, Faster Switching, Meter Data Management, Billing/CRM, Flexibility, connected devices, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and IoT.  Without our software developments, which have been part of the industry for decades already, these possibilities will not be realised.

If you have a project, are looking for such a software partner, or would like to discuss how our software could support your innovative customer projects, please get in touch.