Many of the core benefits of smart meters will already offer big improvements to vulnerable householders, leading to greater control over their energy use and a better understanding of costs. Every household in Britain will be offered a smart meter, accompanied by an in-home display showing near real-time energy usage in pounds and pence.
For pre-payment customers in particular, the option to top up credit at the click of a button or over the phone will greatly improve the situation for people who in an analogue pre-pay world have to top up at the shop.
However, there is potentially an even bigger prize if the rich stream of energy data generated by each household can be harnessed.
Earlier this year we asked a team at the UCL Energy Institute to look at how academics and businesses are starting to use energy data in healthcare. Their report, ‘Energising Health’ presents the findings and makes suggestions on how this cutting-edge field of work might develop as well as the challenges that may lie ahead.
One of the biggest opportunities identified is the ability through energy data to monitor and analyse behaviour and activity with, of course, the consent of householders.
For instance, if there were no signs of electrical usage or heating in the house of an elderly person, a text alert could be sent out to a carer or trusted relative suggesting that they check up on them. By installing smart meters into every house in Britain we create the platform to support future services at large scale and at good value.
Through developing this further, granular-level energy data can be analysed to recognise behavioural patterns and assist with monitoring particular health conditions.
A partnership between Mersey Care NHS Trust and Liverpool John Moore’s University is using smart meter technology as a non-intrusive way to monitor the progression of dementia patients. They are exploring how this could work with a wide range of other conditions where irregular activity might indicate support is needed.
The report also explores the possibility that large-scale public health research could be informed by smart energy data in aggregate form. This might be of particular interest to local authorities looking to target interventions such as energy efficiency measures or even noise pollution mitigation based on very detailed energy use mapping.
As with many developments in the sphere of big data and public policy, the key will be to ensure that regulation enables both consumer confidence and innovation.
Many individuals are happy to share personal information via smart phone, social media and fitness trackers. The smart meter system has additional protection for individuals’ privacy and security, and Smart Energy GB research shows very low levels of concern about privacy in relation to smart metering.
The UCL research team has recommended that further trials of energy data technology are done in clinical contexts, and across disciplines and systems to avoid silo thinking.
The smart meter rollout is transforming the way that millions of householders use and pay for energy, and the consequences of this upgrade for our national infrastructure could be far reaching and impact upon wider aspects of our lives, beyond our energy use.
As efforts to improve the integration of health and care services continue, more local authorities are embracing the smart future to see how these opportunities could further empower and enhance the lives in their communities.
Please do get in contact if you would like to discuss any of this work further.
To download a copy of the Energising Health: A Review of the health and care applications of smart meter data please visit the Smart Energy GB website www.smartenergygb.org