How smart technology is empowering Scottish rural energy projects

Posted by Michael Thorburn on 7th August 2017

Many rural communities across Scotland draw the short straw when it comes to home energy options. Homes are often less energy efficient and, as a result, dependent on more expensive fuels for heating their homes. The obvious solution in these cases would be to harness renewable energy sources like wind, solar or hydro, but many rural communities face barriers here too. Chief amongst these are the limitations of the local distribution network infrastructure. In some cases, local electricity networks cannot accept new connections from renewable energy sources. As a result, local renewables have often not been harnessed in the past and local community energy generation projects have been deemed too expensive.

Thankfully, a solution is at hand in the form of smart technology, including the introduction of smart meters which are coming to every home in Scotland, and the rest of the UK. A number of places in Scotland, including Shetland, Orkney and Eigg, have already been taking advantage of the new technology. Communities in these areas have been developing energy projects using the technology to monitor local networks and prevent them from becoming overloaded. In turn, this ‘real-time’ data allows greater control over the network, enabling more community renewable energy projects to come online.

Heat Smart Orkney is one such project, run by the Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Development Trust alongside Community Energy Scotland. The pilot project will run for two years and if successful could help influence similar projects in other areas. Community owned wind turbines in Orkney have significant power capacity, but at times of low local electricity use the supply of energy can outstrip demand by a large amount.

To combat this, automated equipment is being installed in households to switch on devices such as smart storage heaters and water heaters. By doing this, the demand for electricity will increase in these areas and displace oil and coal. Matching demand to supply reduces the likelihood of the network reaching capacity and enables wind generators to keep producing energy.

Once Heat Smart Orkney is up and running, participating households in the project will receive a rebate on their increased electricity consumption, funded by increased income to the community turbines. This reduces the cost of their electricity and makes it more competitive with oil heating.

There are many benefits of using smart technology in rural community energy projects. These include an improvement in the stability and security of local energy supply, an increase in the use of renewable energy that is produced locally, and a reduction in consumer costs and fuel poverty. This means that households can save money at the same time as helping Scotland become a greener country.

Another important purpose of smart technology is to encourage behaviour change in householders, leading to a reduction in their energy use. In rural areas, many projects have tried to incentivise customers to change their energy use through time-of-use tariffs, lower tariffs for locally produced, renewable energy and capping energy use for households and businesses.

In all of these projects, smart technology makes it easy for customers to be aware of their energy use and to change their behaviour as a result. And it’s not just residents in rural areas who can benefit from smart technology. Smart meters, being rolled out across Great Britain, are a stepping stone for the greater integration of renewable energy into our energy supply, across the country.

John MacNeil is Head of Policy and Communications in Scotland for Smart Energy GB. Smart meters are essential in ensuring we have a stable energy system for the future. Contact your energy supplier today about getting your smart meter installed, at no extra cost.