Any hope of cross investment from smart meter to fibre looks lost
The UK has for many years and across the life of many governments failed to join up investments from various industries, it appears the roll-out of smart meters which with a requirement for data connectivity appears to fit hand in hand with telecoms infrastructure upgrades may be another lost opportunity.
The Register is reporting that a plan to spend some £12bn on rolling out smart meters by 2019 may fall by the way side. It has long being hoped that some of the money used for creating a communications infrastructure could be used to push fibre deeper into the UK, either by connecting more homes using fibre to the home, or for investment in better 3G/4G coverage which meters could also use for interactivity.
Smart Metering is often seen as people just having a pretty Wi-Fi enabled device that lets them monitor energy usage, though whether people do use less electricity and save enough money to pay for the devices is open to debate. The current rise in the cost of power to consumers though is most likely changing this, and people hopefully are looking at how many devices they leave switched on, consuming what seems a small amount, but when left on 24/7 365 days of the year does mount up.
To some extent people using pre-pay meters are already using a crude form of smart metering, since they see the units they use vanish as they check each day to ensure their credit does not run out at a time when the shops are closed and thus are stuck with no power for hours until the shops open again and a top-up can be bought. Smart metering would hopefully allow these sort of customers to pay for a top-up via their mobile phone and the meter being updated with the credit remotely. Pre-pay meters have another totally different issue though of the cost of the tariffs compared to people who are already getting things like Direct Debit and online payment discounts.
Healthcare is often touted as a benefit to be considered when investing in fibre and super-fast projects, and this fits in to some extent with news today of a small fund to encourage ways of helping the vulnerable during periods of cold weather. A smart meter with access to data from a thermostat in a property, would allow remote monitoring of the temperature of a home for vulnerable people.
There has been talk of infrastructure investment as a way to boost the economy, alas private investors, shareholds, companies and UK Governments all too often take a short to medium term view where four years away is seen as long term. For example we have an aging population, and in ten years time, these people will more likely be living on their own, and as the cost of transport increases visiting people to check on them, remote non-intrusive monitoring of people may work out cheaper. Add to this the ability to remotely switch on/off the grid feed from micro-generation schemes will become increasing important as power generation comes from more diverse locations.
Of course smart metering requires very low data rates generally, the key point is that rather than spending £100 per home on a solution to meet this low data rate, why not spend maybe a little less by piggybacking on other data infrastructure work across the UK.