Smart Machines & Factories
Connected technology that helps to ensure a controlled low carbon future.
Published:  09 November, 2021

Part of the UK's plans to limit and eliminate carbon emissions is to switch from fossil fuels to a more electric-based infrastructure, from electric vehicles to electric heating and more. One of the concerns with this process is the tremendous strain this may put on the UK grid network.

Road transport remains the single biggest source of UK greenhouse gas emissions, and electrical infrastructure is deemed essential to decarbonising transport. In 2020, the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads rose more than 40% year on year. According to the International Energy Agency, the number has now surpassed 10 million globally. Although this represents only 1% of the total number of vehicles in the world, electric car sales are accelerating, pardon the pun. In fact, the IEA suggests that the global fleet of EVs could increase to 145 million by 2030 under current policies to reduce carbon emissions. The UK has pledged that every new car sold will be zero emissions by 2035 at the latest.

In another push towards electrification and reducing reliance on fossil fuel heating, the UK government has set out plans to offer grants to help households install home heat pumps and other low-carbon heating systems. Currently, heating is one of the most polluting sectors of the UK economy, with fossil fuels used in homes contributing to over a fifth of the UK’s carbon emissions. 

Of course, these decarbonisation technologies are welcomed, but what does this increased electrification of the country’s economy mean for the national grid?

A study by the UK’s Climate Change Committee predicts that annual demand could double from 300 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2019 to 610 TWh by 2050. Grid operators now face the challenge of not only keeping lights on, but also keeping wheels rolling. Britain will need to invest in new power plants, grid networks and electric vehicle charging points to avoid local power shortages.

The good news is that renewable energy sources are growing rapidly to help meet demand. Another important technology enabling a green revolution is smart connected technology which is empowering stakeholders with accurate data on which to base efficient power planning and distribution. 

Power demands can only be catered for if efficiently mapped out through the adoption of digitised demand management systems. Smart meters, automated meter readers and other connected technologies give property developers and planning councils real-time data at their fingertips in order to make data-driven decisions around power management. 

To ensure that grids do not act as a brake on EV adoption, cities will need to adopt smart charging systems, more charging points and time-of-use tariffs. Supporting millions of electric vehicles over the next few decades is feasible if drivers can be incentivised to recharge them overnight when spare power capacity is available. Spreading out charging through the night could save around £2.2 billion pounds of expenditure in replacing or upgrading cables or transformers. The development of smart meters and smart charging systems will also be central to harnessing the cleanest and cheapest power. 

Smart meters and automated meter readers provide real-time energy consumption data. This information gives the end consumer greater clarity on their consumption behaviour and helps electricity suppliers with system monitoring and customer billing. The information can also help regulators and policy-makers with regards to formulating plans and policies for optimal energy consumption. 

A smart EV charger transmits data between the car, charging operator and the utility company to optimise charging power and performance. One of the main benefits of smart charging is that it can manage power consumption according to how many people are using electricity at that time, thus putting less pressure on the grid. It also allows utility companies to define certain limits for energy consumption and prevents charging operators from exceeding their building’s maximum energy capacity. 

All the information from smart meters and EV chargers can be submitted to a centralised, cloud-based management platform, which can report on anything from the local grid’s currency capacity to energy consumption patterns over a given time period. The mass of data is automatically analysed and visualised in real-time and can be used to make automatic decisions about energy management.

As a key pre-preparation tool for the next wave of the energy revolution, connected technology and smart management systems should be given top priority. With smart technology, renewable energy and incentivising policies, it is entirely possible to create an energy system that provides more reliable, efficient and low-carbon energy.