Smart Meters Are Driving the Data Revolution

Bill Harmer
February 19, 2020
hand holding a light bulb with energy and fresh green leaves inside on nature background, soft focus

It is now more than a decade since the British government embarked on its mission to install smart meters in every home in an effort to encourage consumers to view, manage, and reduce their energy consumption and their bills.

By digitally measuring usage of electricity, gas, and water on a half-hourly basis, utilities can gain a far more accurate view of where resources are being consumed, plan for fluctuations in supply and demand, and identify and tackle waste.

The nationwide use of smart meters is estimated to save consumers and suppliers £5.7 billion (approximately 7.4 billion USD).

Getting Smarter Every Day

According to government figures at the end of September 2019, there were 15.6 million smart metersinstalled in British homes and businesses. Let’s consider that fact for a moment. Each of those meters takes a reading every half hour, which equates to 17,500 data updates a year per meter.

Even if each meter sends just a few kilobytes of data, when this is multiplied by the number of installed smart meters, reporting the usage of just a single utility will amount to at least 2,730,000,000,000 bytes annually. When multiple utilities are being measured, this will result in Terabytes and Petabytes of data that need to be processed and analysed by utility companies each year.

Currently, just 28 percent of homes and 38 percent of businesses are using smart meters, so the volume of UK smart meter data is set to increase more than three-fold.

Utility companies need to ensure that they are adequately prepared to process and analyse data at scale.

Utility companies need to ensure that they are adequately prepared to process and analyse data at scale.

Tapping Data to Tackle Leaks

Arqiva, the company that transmitted the first BBC broadcast in 1936, has set up a nationwide network of radio transmitters to enable the collection of smart meter data. Arqiva was also the first company in the UK to build a smart water network at scale3, to help companies such as Anglian Water to monitor demand and supply, plan maintenance, and tackle leaks at their source. Classed as a Critical National Infrastructure provider, Arqiva has to process and analyse petabytes of data annually.

Western Power Distribution, the electricity distribution network operator for the Midlands, South West, and Wales, selected WebFOCUS as its business intelligence (BI) platform to keep 2,300 employees informed of operational performance data, managing data at scale, and ensuring that employees across the enterprise have access to the right data to support decision-making.

Siemens Energy selected WebFOCUS as its BI and analytics platform to ensure that when constructing combined cycle gas turbine plants worldwide, it was able to monitor projects faster, with less work and at a lower cost.

Managing Supply and Demand the Smart Way

The benefits for utility companies investing in data management at scale is that they can use smart meter data to offer their customers more flexible tariffs based on real, rather than estimated usage; they can more accurately forecast energy requirements, enabling them to improve their performance on settlement markets4; and they can more accurately plan for spikes in demand, based on historical data.

This latter point is critical. By charging higher tariffs when supply is weak and releasing stored energy when demand is anticipated to be highest, rather than investing in costlier energy sources, utility companies can better manage supply and demand and increase profitability. Predictive analytics on energy usage, based on smart meter data, also supports the transition to renewable energy sources such as wind, tidal, and solar, which fluctuate in supply and are harder to store.

As an example, following a particularly windy weekend, on December 8, 2019 British householders on smart energy tariffs were paid to charge5 their electric vehicles and set their dishwashers to run in the early hours of the morning, as wind turbines cranked out 45 percent of the nation’s power, leading to an energy surplus. To help balance the national energy grid, Octopus incentivised its customers to draw energy down.

In addition to flexible tariffs, smart meters also support the rise of distributed energy systems and microgrids, as small organisations and individuals participate in generating renewable energy. In the race to net zero, data is in the driving seat.

To find out more about the data impact of smart meters and the implications for the utilities sector, join us on the Information Age webinar on 27 February.


1 Kerai, Mita. "Smart Meter Statistics in Great Britain: Quarterly Report to End September 2019," Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, UK, November 2019.

2 Kerai, Mita. "Smart Meter Statistics in Great Britain: Quarterly Report to End September 2019," Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, UK, November 2019.

3 Goodwin, Pete. "Planning Your Smart Water Network...the Arqiva Way," Arqiva.com, October 2019.

4 "Electricity Settlement Reform,"  ofgem.gov.uk, Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, UK.

5 "Thousands Were Paid to Use Extra Renewable Electricity on Windy Weekend,"  theguardian.com, December 2019.