Is there some way to estimate the environmental impact on overall carbon emissions of a community switching from normal to smart meters, with all the integrated solutions(monitoring, for instance)?

I assume that the impact happens in the following way:

  • detecting where energy/gas is being wasted (leaks, for instance)
  • maybe also regulating prices depending on when the peak consumption is, therefore making huge cuts in efficiency (if people stop consuming during peak times, no need for the load to be high = maybe less coal being used)
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    One prerequiste would be that the complete metering data is available to the end user in an easily viewable place in real time (as well as the aggregate data later) - and in a display that is well designed. This is seriously lacking in many implementations. If the user see his/her instantaneous use it is an incentive to play with it (try to reduce consumption). – Jan Doggen Feb 11 '16 at 11:27

There is very large uncertainty on this, and one should not attach much credibility to reports that do put a specific number on it.

Early work suggested that easy availability of real-time energy-use data led to quite high energy savings. Later work suggested that this had been significantly over-estimated.

Whether time-of-use pricing has any effect in and of itself would depend on the generation portfolio on the grid.

In Britain, gas plants are the marginal producer for an increasing proportion of the time (as coal plant gets decommissioned); moving demand around in time has little effect on carbon emissions when the only effect is to use one CCGT plant instead of another.

However, in the future, some method of time-shifting demand that's enabled or assisted by smart metering (maybe time-varying pricing, maybe something else) will enable a much higher combined penetration of exogenously-variable renewables such as solar and wind, possibly with some plant that would be too expensive to run flexibly, such as biomass with CCS.

So smart meters in and of themselves don't do much. It's the fancy demand time-shifting that offers the interesting opportunities.

  • I wonder if working on smart meters solutions would be more impactful than just driving around in an electric taxi and putting a gasoline one out of business :) By the looks of it, smart meters look like a needed part of a 100% sustainable infrastructure... – Sustainable Programmer Feb 11 '16 at 12:12
  • @SustainableProgrammer yes, that's a pretty fair statement - maybe not absolutely essential, but a very significant enabler nevertheless – EnergyNumbers Feb 11 '16 at 12:29
  • Well, we could just invent supercapacitors or make a supergrid :D – Sustainable Programmer Feb 11 '16 at 12:33

There is a very detailed and interesting document of the British Government (Impact Assessment DECC0009: "Smart meter roll-out for the domestic and small and medium non-domestic sectors") where the saving in costs (divided in a lot of categories, as a saving of £1.21bn in carbon related activities) and in emissions is explained carefully.

In that document you can find a section of more than 30 pages explaining the results for the domestic sector which addresses your question.

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