Ed’s note: Revisiting smart meters and energy consumption

Do smart meters actually make a difference? This is not a new question. But it is one that is worth revisiting as recent research provides interesting insights that may shed some light on how things could be improved.

Last week we published news about a report from Keele University which highlighted that smart meters have delivered very limited benefits to consumers and that the proposed longer-term impacts on consumption were overly optimistic.

According to the research, A Decade On, How Has the Visibility of Energy Changed? Energy Feedback Perceptions from UK Focus Groups, energy consumption reduction due to smart meters may be no higher than 2%. Originally, research seemed to indicate that the reductions could be as high as 15%.

It’s in the why that the real gold lies.

It would appear that there is still a lack of trust in the reliability and depth of information that can be gathered by smart meters. Yet, where smart meters are installed, there is a corresponding lack of understanding of the information provided via the in-home display. Even in environments where the in-home display provides insights in Pounds and Pence, this means very little. 

What does it actually mean? 

In situations where consumers are concerned because usage is high, there is little to no information as to the appliance that may be responsible for that high usage.  

Respondents in the survey on which the research is based “describing such devices as ‘not smart’ due to the lack of ‘straightforward’ feedback on energy consumption, no ability for the devices to highlight where electricity was being ‘wasted’ vs. what could be ‘saved’ and the lack of disaggregated appliance consumption data.”

This is coupled with two new, but potentially unsurprising insights. Consumers don’t actually believe that reducing consumption will have a significant impact on climate change or the environment – and they have a limited understanding of which appliances are high consumption appliances. Many of the respondents spoke about turning lights off as a means of reducing consumption, despite lighting being one of the lighter loads in a household.

There is much to criticise about the research – the sample size being one – yet, it is insightful in many small ways too. Consumers don’t want to have to think too hard about their consumption – they want clear insights and energy reduction advice which is targeted to them and not advice so generic as to have no meaningful impact at all. Consumers want to be incentivised, but they also want to understand what a reduction in energy consumption will mean, not necessarily in terms of Pounds and Pence, but in terms of environmental impact or their ‘standing’ in a community. 

Interestingly, some of the respondents said they would choose which university to attend based on that institution’s “approach to energy consumption and environmental conservation. Participants agreed they would not want to attend an institute that received a poor energy rating.”

Who would have thought??

It’s hard to summarise all my thoughts on this 17-page research into a 500 word editorial,  but it is worth reading and drawing your own conclusions.

We’d love to hear what you think of these insights and if you have experienced similar feedback from your customers? Are you doing something different to drive changes in consumption patterns? What do you believe utilities and meter companies can do differently to provide more meaningful insight to consumers?

Source : Smart Energy

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