More smart meters needed to save Northern Ireland peak power use, say experts
Smart metering of electricity to deter use at peak times in Northern Ireland should be accelerated, an expert advisory group said.
Customers could pay more during periods of heavy usage to reduce the total energy requirement and spikes in demand which produce higher prices for all consumers, according to the review for the Stormont Executive.
The report said current pricing and metering practices were no longer suitable for future electricity supply .
"The Executive and the (Utility) Regulator should act to accelerate the deployment of demand-side management and smart technologies which can reduce both total energy requirement and the spikes in demand which lead to higher prices for all consumers," it said.
It added: "Demand management and the adoption of smart technologies could see Northern Ireland become an exemplar region for smart electricity."
The Ministerial Energy & Manufacturing Advisory Group, chaired by dairy industry chief Dr David Dobbin, drew up its report for Energy Minister Jonathan Bell.
It made a number of recommendations on improving the energy supply.
"It is essential that all electricity consumers (domestic and industrial) manage their demand to avoid additional costs in meeting periods of peak demand.
"The dominance of fixed price tariffs (especially for domestic consumers) means that consumers are not receiving appropriate price signals to avoid peak period usage and base load consumers are consequently paying disproportionately high energy prices.
"There is a growing sense that the electricity sector is fast reaching a period of technology-led disruption that has been experienced in other sectors (e.g. contactless and mobile payments in banking).
"Current pricing and metering practices are no longer suitable for future electricity supply markets."
It recommended that the Executive and the Utility Regulator should accelerate the management of power demand through the use of technology.
That could be done through signalling clearly when large energy users need to reduce consumption during periods of peak demand as well as smart metering new energy projects.
The group recommended the Department of the Economy should commission a long term strategic plan for the electricity grid from NIE Networks and the system operator.
It also said h igh local electricity costs have resulted in an increasing trend for large energy users to go off grid.
In the Republic of Ireland large users pay lower prices, giving them a significant advantage over counterparts in Northern Ireland.