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Solace blog

19th May 2017

Healthcare opportunities for local authorities from smart energy data

One of the most exciting aspects of Britain’s smart meter rollout is that this upgrade of our national energy infrastructure is creating a dynamic new platform that enables new innovations and services to be built around the data generated.

This month Smart Energy GB and UCL published a new report exploring the potential future uses for energy data in the realm of health and care.

For some time, there has been a growing focus within our health system on providing the best possible care for people in the familiar environment of their own homes. Whether they have a long-term condition or are vulnerable in other ways, there is a great deal that technology can already offer to aid and support daily life.

Many of the core benefits of smart meters will already offer big improvements to vulnerable householders, leading to greater control over their energy use and a better understanding of costs. Every household in Britain will be offered a smart meter, accompanied by an in-home display showing near real-time energy usage in pounds and pence.

For pre-payment customers, in particular, the option to top up credit at the click of a button or over the phone will greatly improve the situation for people who in an analogue pre-pay world have to top up at the shop.

However, there is potentially an even bigger prize if the rich stream of energy data generated by each household can be harnessed.

Earlier this year we asked a team at the UCL Energy Institute to look at how academics and businesses are starting to use energy data in healthcare. Their report, ‘Energising Health’ presents the findings and makes suggestions on how this cutting-edge field of work might develop as well as the challenges that may lie ahead.

One of the biggest opportunities identified is the ability through energy data to monitor and analyse behaviour and activity with, of course, the consent of householders.

For instance, if there were no signs of electrical usage or heating in the house of an elderly person, a text alert could be sent out to a carer or trusted relative suggesting that they check up on them. By installing smart meters into every house in Britain we create the platform to support future services at large scale and at good value.

Through developing this further, granular-level energy data can be analysed to recognise behavioural patterns and assist with monitoring particular health conditions.

A partnership between Mersey Care NHS Trust and Liverpool John Moore’s University is using smart meter technology as a non-intrusive way to monitor the progression of dementia patients. They are exploring how this could work with a wide range of other conditions where irregular activity might indicate support is needed.

The report also explores the possibility that large-scale public health research could be informed by smart energy data in aggregate form. This might be of particular interest to local authorities looking to target interventions such as energy efficiency measures or even noise pollution mitigation based on very detailed energy use mapping.

As with many developments in the sphere of big data and public policy, the key will be to ensure that regulation enables both consumer confidence and innovation.

Many individuals are happy to share personal information via smartphone, social media, and fitness trackers. The smart meter system has additional protection for individuals’ privacy and security, and Smart Energy GB research shows very low levels of concern about privacy in relation to smart metering.

The UCL research team has recommended that further trials of energy data technology are done in clinical contexts, and across disciplines and systems to avoid silo thinking.

The smart meter rollout is transforming the way that millions of householders use and pay for energy, and the consequences of this upgrade for our national infrastructure could be far-reaching and impact upon wider aspects of our lives, beyond our energy use.

As efforts to improve the integration of health and care services continue, more local authorities are embracing the smart future to see how these opportunities could further empower and enhance the lives in their communities.

To download a copy of the Energising Health: A Review of the health and care applications of smart meter data please visit the Smart Energy GB website

By Claire Maugham, Director of Policy and Communications, Smart Energy GB