Multinational utility company Centrica has reported the installation of four million smart meters in British homes.
Regarding this as a “key milestone” in its mission to achieve the mandated 100% customer rollout by 2020, the company claims to be continuing the instal at the rate of one smart meter every 30 seconds.
This also amounts to almost two-thirds of the smart meters currently deployed in Great Britain. According to the latest government statistics, as of 31 March 2017 there were over 6.78m smart and advanced meters operating across homes and businesses nationally.
Smart home products and services
Alongside the smart meter rollout, Centrica is launching new products and services focussed on its Hive smart home brand.
The first of these is a connected camera, with application both for communication within the home and home security.
Others to follow later in the year include a leak sensor to monitor water flow in the home, and an active hub with an intelligent audio sensor. These are envisaged to enable future services, such as alerting customers to a potential water leak or a smoke alarm going off.
The utility has also promised to trial other new and complementary technologies like Green Running’s Verv advanced home energy monitor, which could help to give customers extra insight into their energy usage.
“Smart meters are essential in making people’s lives simpler, smarter and more connected,” says Centrica’s Director, Smart Metering, Catherine O'Kelly in a statement.
Innovative grid solutions
The utility says that the rollout is establishing a foundation for the deployment and implementation of innovative grid solutions and business models under a number of smart grid programmes.
One example is the new £19m Local Energy Market programme which aims to establish a virtual energy marketplace for buying and selling energy flexibiility involving approximately 150 homes in Cornwall. Participants for the trial, who are currently being sought, will receive funding to cover the cost of an energy solution that is tailored to their specific needs.
For example, homes could receive a domestic battery to absorb excess power on the local network or from their own solar panels, while others could use smart storage heaters to draw energy outside of peak hours and release that energy in the form of heat during the day. On the generation side, participants could obtain new equipment such as solar panels or micro-combined heat and power units.
“We’re giving local people the opportunity to get their hands on the very latest energy tech that will help them to take greater control of how they use energy at home,” says Matt Hastings, Programme Director. “What that means is giving them the power to produce their own energy, store it, and rewarding them for being more flexible about when they use that energy.”
Centrica’s sustainability plans
To support Centrica's sustainability goals, the company has established an international distributed energy and power business as part of its strategic review. The utility group has developed Connected Home and Distributed Energy & Power units and expects these to break even by 2019 and for revenue by 2022 to increase ten-fold from just £200m last year.
"We must turn ourselves into a 21st century energy and services company," said Chief Executive Iain Conn in a statement.
As part of this move, Centrica announced the sale of its two biggest gas-fired power plants to Czech peer EPH for £318m. The plants, Langage and South Humber, have an installed capacity of 2.3GW.
The company has also sold its Canadian oil and gas assets and has closed the Rough gas storage site, Britain's largest. In total, Centrica has raised over £900m from divestments of traditional assets, in line with a 2015 target to divest up to £1bn worth of assets.
Centrica's diversification reflects low electricity prices, increasing renewables development and other factors which have also forced European utilities to change their business models.
Centrica provides gas and electricity services to residential and business consumers through its subsidiaries Scottish Gas in Scotland, British Gas in England and Wales and Bord Gais Energy in Ireland.
In total, Centrica serves 18 million residential customers worldwide of which 800,000 are UK business consumers.