Picture credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen
CC BY-SA 3.0

Smart metering in Ireland is nothing new - one needs only recall the ill-fated Irish Water Project which met with mass protests, aggression towards meter installation teams, and ultimately, the abandonment of the project to see the possible makings of an interesting deployment.

Ireland’s government announced a 2.3 million smart electricity and gas meter rollout over a multi-year period to all Irish consumers, in September last year. Work is set to commence in 2019. Around 250,000 smart meters are set to be installed by 2020, and half a million in each of the four subsequent years.

One important question must be asked, however - have they benefitted from other national smart metering rollout plans in Europe, and what are they doing differently?

A good start

Smart meters were trialled in over 5,000 homes in 2009 and 2010, and results were positive – showing a 2.5% reduction in overall demand, and an 8% reduction in peak-time demand (full results here). These results are broadly in line with experiences in other European countries where total energy savings were in the region of two to three per cent.

The rollout won’t be supplier-led

One of the major learnings from the British smart meter rollout to date and arguably the single biggest cause of confusion, unnecessary expense, and wasted technology was caused by individual energy suppliers installing a range of different meters. This became a problem when consumer's switched suppliers – and their smart meter went “dumb,” effectively cutting the benefits of having a smart meter and returning them to a system of estimated billing. This has done a lot to sabotage public sentiment for the government-led plan.

Whilst there have been murmurs regarding the cost of the new meter installation being passed to consumers, the cost would amount to an effective €5.50 per year over approximately 20 years, which will be easily offset by even the most conservative savings estimates, with ease of supplier-switching assured.

Influencer-led market development

The rollout will be phased to focus on early-adopters first, with the aim being that they will provide a positive example to others. This is a tactic often employed by product or service marketers that are seeking to aggressively grow market-share, whilst keeping promotional costs low.

Wider testing will uncover further learnings.

It is anticipated that the rollout will have massive implications for developing technologies such as electric vehicles, integrated micro-generation and connected home technologies. ESB Networks announced on 14 August that the town of Dingle in County Kerry will serve as a ‘demonstration town’ as part of a €4 million test project. This forms part of ESB Networks’ Innovation Strategy, which aims to meet the changes of the energy market, and in the case of a peninsular town like Dingle, extreme weather conditions too.

Managing director Marguerite Sayers told the Irish Independent that demand for electric vehicles and massive interest in the development of data centres in Ireland will drive the need for greater energy supply and the current grid had to adapt to meet these changing needs.

"You could do a lot of vanity projects which aren't proven," she said. "We think lots of things are going to work, and we want to carry out trials. We want to have a test bed and Dingle is the location… One of the reasons is it's a contained area, and we can do a lot of tests on a peninsula. It's quite remote in electrical terms. About one million visit [the town] every year, even though there are around 3,000 inhabitants. The load flexes up and down and that's a challenge, and Kerry sees quite a lot of extreme weather."

Eight key areas have been identified for further exploration as part of the greater rollout including connecting renewables, network resilience, including self-healing grid capabilities and the electrification of heat and transport. Ireland has enjoyed a 70% reduction in power outages following a €6billion capital investment plan over the last decade, but increased demand driven by EV’s and data centres is driving further exploration. The national supplier will spend €4.8 billion between 2018 and 2020 on grid development and claims it can accommodate up to 20% of the national fleet, or 400,000 electric cars, with minimum investment.

Data centres, however, pose a challenge.

"There's huge interest in Ireland for data centres. That's a huge challenge. The current load in Dublin is around 1,200MW. We have 1,000MW in applications from fairly credible data centres," Ms Sayers said.

According to Sanders, the introduction of smart meters will make it easier for homeowners with solar panels to sell excess power back to the grid, although suitable government policy is needed to support this.

Time, it seems will tell...