Peter Northwood, Connected Homes Director at HomeServe Alliance, the company behind www.smartinstallers.co.uk looks at why he believes mandatory smart meters are not the only option to help UK households gain some control over their energy usage and bills.
The plan to introduce smart meters into every home across Britain has been the subject of much debate amongst energy analysts, politicians, energy suppliers, and heating installers. No matter what government is in place post-election, it is unlikely that the roll-out plan will change. At a cost of £600m, the smart meter scheme is not a cheap exercise and with a final install date of 2020 it will take some time to deliver any benefits. The government’s stated benefits of the roll-out are derived from both consumers and energy suppliers having access to near ‘real time’ usage data (from gov.uk):
- Near real-time information on energy use, expressed in pounds and pence
- The ability to manage their energy use, save money and reduce emissions
- An end to estimated billing – people will only be billed for the energy they actually use, helping them to budget better
- Easier switching – it will be smoother and faster to switch suppliers to get the best deals
I personally welcome the principles behind the roll-out as a key element is to raise awareness to UK homeowners of their own energy consumption. Only by raising understanding of your own energy consumption can you take control of how you use energy, irrespective of whether you choose to use more or less.
Whether a Smart Meter will make consumers manage their energy use better is another point entirely, there has been much conjecture on this and the analysis of IHDs (In Home Displays giving energy consumption statistics) showed that consumers quickly become disinterested in looking at graphs and numbers.
However, if you look at the market today there are a number of products available that enable you to better understand your own energy consumption and even ones that will automatically adjust your consumption patterns for you to eliminate wastage. The more unique and individual this experience is to a consumer then the more likely they are to engage with it and then understand the trade-offs that can be made.
There are Smart Thermostats available that will adjust settings automatically based on your behaviour patterns and for example switch off heating when you are not in the house. When a consumer experiences this light bulb ‘that’s clever’ moment, it automatically causes the consumer to question how much they’ve been spending to date and starts them on a journey of discovery. They start to engage more deeply with their heating/hot water system asking follow on ‘what else’ questions like ‘am I heating my water for too long?’, ‘should all the radiators be the same temperature?’ It’s this level of consumer engagement which is essential to drive any longer term behavioural changes.
Equally there are tablet based thermostats within continental Europe that already link into consumption data by reading data from existing meters without the need for Smart Meters. This data can then be presented side by side with the consumers existing demand schedule. Again this will prompt questions in the consumer’s head, particularly if the thermostat is also giving personalised energy hints and tips, which will start them on that journey.
Research carried out in connection with smartinstallers.co.uk (our Smart Installer Club) shows that 1 in 3 Brits believe that smart thermostats are the best option for managing heating bills. A huge number of people in the UK have already ‘opted in’ to smart controls and have started the journey from awareness, through understanding to taking control.
So Smart Thermostats can demonstrably help consumers better manage their energy consumption and some are already linking in to reading traditional meters, only time will tell what the incremental benefit of Smart Meters will be.