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Smart technologies and data posited to future-proof energy supply

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The UK government and Ofgem have announced plans for smart technologies to help consumers cut their bills and boost energy efficiency as demand for electricity intensifies and fossil fuels are phased out across the UK.

Smart and flexible energy systems will be needed if the UK is to meet its world-leading commitments to tackling climate change by 2050. Meeting the increasing demand for electricity, as fossil fuels are phased out, will require a system that ensures the supply of clean energy from renewable sources is guaranteed even when the wind is not blowing or the Sun is not shining.

The 'Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan and Energy Digitalisation Strategy', published jointly by the government and Ofgem, is intended to deliver on the commitments made by the government in its 'Energy White Paper' and represent a step forward on the path to providing flexibility for the nation’s energy network.

According to the joint coalition, unleashing the full potential of smart systems and flexibility in the energy sector could reduce the costs of managing the system by up to £10bn a year by 2050, as well as generate up to 10,000 jobs for system installers, electricians, data scientists and engineers.

A further 14,000 jobs could also be created by the export potential of these new technologies, with an estimated export market possibly worth up to £2.7bn a year to the UK economy by the middle of the century. For consumers, the benefits could range from households being able to trade back their excess energy to reduce bills to knowing when the costs of running household appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers are at their lowest.

“We need to ensure our energy system can cope with the demands of the future. Smart technologies will help us tackle climate change while making sure that the lights stay on and bills stay low,” said Anne-Marie Trevelyan, energy and climate change minister.

She added: “The possibilities opened by a smart and flexible system are clear to see. They will not only allow households to take control of their energy use and save money, but will ensure power is available when and where it’s needed while creating jobs and investment opportunities long into the future.”

With the Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan, the government and Ofgem hope to move forward the plans for innovative new systems that could allow electricity generated by clean renewable sources to be stored at a large scale and over longer periods, so it is ready to meet the challenges of energy system decarbonisation. Such technologies include pumped hydro storage, compressed air energy storage and the conversion of power to hydrogen so it can generate electricity.

Smart technologies already in development in the UK include heat network projects in Gateshead and Milton Keynes, which are supplying residents with affordable, low-carbon heat and electricity by pairing with battery storage to offer excess electricity back to the grid when it is needed.

There is also a community of approximately 6,500 residential customers across the UK taking part in trials where domestic solar energy is being combined with battery technology, using data to forecast energy generation and demand in the wider electricity system. This enables the customers to trade excess energy back to the grid, giving an average saving of 70 per cent on household bills.

The government, Ofgem and Innovate UK are also publishing the UK’s first 'Energy Digitalisation Strategy'. This will examine how energy system data is used so that the full potential of innovative technologies can be realised and consumers can gain maximum benefit from new digital products and services.

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