Great Britain aims to install 53 million smart electricity and gas meters in around 27 million domestic properties by 2020. Smart meters provide the potential for high-resolution electricity and gas consumption data that has never previously existed on a national scale.To leverage this national investment, UK Research and Innovation has funded a sizeable project to develop a Smart Energy Research Lab (SERL) to provide access to smart meter energy data for UK researchers. A primary objective of SERL is to develop a secure research portal for researchers to access energy data, linked to relevant contextual data (e.g. socio-demographics, building characteristics and weather data), thereby facilitating high-quality scientific research. This paper focuses on data availability and will discuss the benefits, challenges and methods for developing a national data resource that will support a wide range of research across the energy sector. The paper provides practical guidance to researchers who want to utilise SERL data directly, as well as insights for researchers, policy-makers or other organizations who wish to utilise smart energy data more broadly. Issues discussed include the complexities of data governance and quality associated with smart energy data, innovative approaches to research design (enabling both Observatory and Laboratory functions) and practical solutions to sector-wide issues such as smart meter consumer authentication.