UK households could be forced to have smart appliances in quest for net zero

Government says technology is essential to cope with fluctuations in electricity supply during the transition to renewables

A smart energy meter, used to monitor gas and electricity use, and a central heating thermostat dial at a home in London. The UK energy bill could force householders to adopt smart appliances. EPA
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Smart technology in everyday appliances such as boilers and electric vehicle chargers could be required by law in the UK.

Provisions to make households adopt smart technologies are contained in the government's energy bill, which begins its final passage through the House of Commons on Tuesday.

The proposed legislation has not had an easy journey. Several factions of the ruling Conservative party have tabled amendments, including one that seeks to water down proposals for a ban on oil-fired boilers.

Some MPs had labelled the oil boiler ban as a “rural Ulez”, in reference to the contentious London emissions zone.

For its part, the government said the use of smart technology is essential to deal with the flexibility in supply that will be commonplace as the UK switches to renewables.

Through the energy bill, the government said it is seeking to “create the right technical frameworks to unlock the potential of flexibility, improve the security of the electricity system and give consumers confidence to engage with a smart and flexible system”.

This “smart and flexible system”, the government said, could cut energy costs by up to £10 billion a year by 2050.

“These benefits would be passed on to all consumers through their energy bills, and consumers who take part in Demand Side Response through using smart appliances and services will see greater savings,” government documents said, referring to a system that is designed to cope with peaks in energy demand.

'Irregular renewables'

Those Conservative MPs who oppose the “smart mandate” aspects of the energy bill said the renewables sector is not advanced and developed enough yet, no matter how smart appliances are.

Craig Mackinlay, the MP for South Thanet and head of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, has tabled dozens of amendments to the bill, including one that calls for the entire section on smart appliances to be dropped from the legislation.

He told The Telegraph newspaper that the government was “admitting a shortage of electricity with its plans to limit supply to households and businesses through smart appliances, peak pricing penalties and reliance on irregular renewables”.

The government said that if consumers switched to smart appliances like fridges, boilers and EV chargers there would be less strain on the electricity grid at peak times and demand would be more evenly distributed across the system.

Opponents like the Net Zero Scrutiny Group claim that is simply rationing in disguise, a charge the government denies.

Updated: September 05, 2023, 9:29 AM