UK utility addresses energy poverty with smart meter data

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UK utility Western Power Distribution has launched the Vulnerability and Energy Networks, Identification and Consumption Evaluation (VENICE) initiative to detect and address consumer energy poverty. At the heart of the programme is smart meter data and collaboration with communities on renewable energy deployment.

The VENICE initiative falls under efforts by the utility to leverage innovation to improve consumer services and business processes, accelerate digital transformation, and move closer to net-zero goals whilst ensuring a just transition.

Using funding secured from Ofgem’s National Innovation Allowance, Western Power Distribution will conduct the programme using three approaches including:

  • Partnerships with communities on renewable energy

The utility aims to develop a Net-Zero Community in Cornwall in partnership with the Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN).

The project will assess how the transition to net-zero is impacting consumers with a specific focus on the impact of switching to electrified transport and heat networks on energy poverty.

Multiple commercial business models will be tested by WREN and Western Power Distribution to identify how the utility can ensure communities decarbonise whilst achieving net-zero equality.

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  • Using smart meter data to identify energy poverty

Western Power Distribution will be partnering with Frazer-Nash Consultancy to test how data acquired from smart meters can be used to detect fuel poverty. A Vulnerability Prediction Model will be developed using smart metering to make use of consumer energy usage history to detect vulnerability.

Using the prediction tool, the utility believes it will be able to “target investment and support at communities where it would be most effective at tackling vulnerability,” according to the utility statement.

  • Changes in consumer patterns due toCOVID-19

With the pandemic resulting in massive changes in consumer energy usage, Western Power Distribution will investigate consumer vulnerabilities due to the changes. For instance, with work-from-home policies resulting in massive increases in bills for residential bills, are consumers managing to pay their bills and will the trend continue?

The utility will be collaborating with Frontier Economics on this project.

WPD Innovation Engineer Stuart Fowler said: “While all our innovation projects aim to improve the efficiency and resilience of the network and ultimately to benefit customers, VENICE starts with the customers.

“The next few years will see a dramatic change in the way we use electricity to live our lives. Many of us will soon be driving electric vehicles while also installing heat pumps. These changes will help us to make huge steps in tackling climate change and achieving the aim of becoming a net zero nation. While this will be a challenge for us all, we must ensure that the needs of those who are fuel poor and vulnerable are considered.”