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Public perception and engagement issues

What are the main public perception issues around smart metering and managing smart energy data?

Visions of a smart city
Most of the UK public is in the dark when it comes to smart cities according to recent research by YouGov and Arqiva[1]. In an online survey 96% of participants were not aware of any smart city initiatives being run by their local city council in the last year. 29% thought that the greatest benefit of a ‘connected city’ would be a better living environment (particularly linked to transport), but 23% were unclear on any one main benefit. Nearly half those surveyed thought that smart cities were 5 years away.

There are already a number of smart city initiatives germinating in the UK[2]. For example Newcastle University has developed an energy storage test bed with a microgrid in which developers can test the hardware and software for smart grids and energy storage. The Bristol is Open initiative has data from wirelessly-linked sensors in city-wide locations that relate to energy, air quality and traffic flows. Academics and entrepreneurs are using this machine-to-machine communication to develop prototypes for smart city applications and services.

Awareness of smart metering roll out
The public lack of knowledge about smart city initiatives may relate to the UK’s limited roll-out to date of smart meters. With an estimated 170-180 million smart meters to be installed in EU-27 countries by 2020, the UK total is currently around 1 million[3]. As the British ‘Foundation stage’ of trials and pilot projects draws to a close, the majority of smart meters will be installed from 2016, with a peak in installation expected in 2019.

Around 18% of people in the UK know what a smart meter is, with young people being the most informed and interested.[4] DECC research in 2014[5] indicated that 60% of bill payers were aware of smart meters, and 9% had a smart meter. However householders often confuse the IHD with the smart meter, so it’s likely that only 3% of householders had a smart meter. Other DECC research identified that non-smart meter owners might be familiar with the concept of smart meters but may not really know what is involved. For example a smart meter was thought to be like a smart phone/car/TV – more of a marketing thing.[6]

In the early stage of smart meter roll-out in 2014, a third of UK households supported the roll-out, with only 15% against it. Roughly half of the households that are aware of smart meters would like to have one.[4][7].

For the EU countries leading on smart metering - Italy, Sweden, Germany and Denmark - consumer engagement is increasingly coming into focus. Trials have predominantly engaged with self-selecting volunteers, and wider public engagement is utilising financial and environmental motivations to engage with a broader participant base. There has been a high level of consumer scepticism. Some of the obstacles encountered have been:

  • Technical: lack of interoperability and standards;
  • Regulatory: uncertainty over roles and responsibilities in new smart grid applications;
  • Economic: uncertainty over the sharing of costs and benefits and consequently over new business models;
  • Social: consumer resistance to participating in trials.

This touches on a few of the UK public concerns on the smart meter roll-out, and on further engagement with smart metering technologies.

Concerns about smart meter roll-out
The major issues about the roll-out are[8]:

  • Costs and its impact on bills
  • Uncertainty over the benefits of smart meters
  • Health questions
  • Data protection and privacy
  • The installation process


Motivations and barriers to engagement with smart meters

What are the main public engagement issues around smart metering and managing smart energy data?

Individual, community and business engagement and behaviour change opportunities

Research on smart technology engagement and behaviour change opportunities

Main conclusions of the research

Support needs of vulnerable households and approaches to local provision

What are the support needs of vulnerable households in using smart meters and associated services?

How could the support be provided locally?

Communication and dissemination routes – audiences and narratives

Communicating the purpose and benefits of smart meters to householders effectively will be key in their success[9].Smart Energy GB (SEGB), which started out in September 2013 as the Smart Energy Delivery Body (SMDB) have carried out research on, and will manage the consumer engagement in the delivery and roll-out of smart meters, in terms of public engagement. As part of this, large workshops and knowledge sharing events have been held with the aim of to develop an effective plan for communication and dissemination. The workshops held have included individuals from energy and housing charities (including Kate Thomas from CSE), housing associations, local authorities, DECC, academics and community groups; the findings of which have been published.

SEGB have taken insights from smart meter roll-out in other countries noting that successful campaigns promoted immediately accessible consumer benefits, such as controlling what you spend[9]. In addition, they found effective communication including notifying the public of whom they can turn to for advice, ensuring that those groups are trusted by communities. The most effective strategies also used customer queries ts a learning tool further develop communication and dissemination routes.

There are considered to be two key stages in communication; 'saying yes' and 'starting to use the technology', both considered to be 'innovation decision behaviours'. It is recognised that whilst smart meters may be accepted for installation - 'saying yes' they may not be used, therefore further engagement may be necessary to ensure people 'start to use the technology'[9]

As the audience is essentially the entire UK population, finding appropriate ways to communicate with each individual is the challenge. Individuals have a wide range of life circumstances, motivations, attitudes and underlying values. SEGB spent some time considering effective ways to engage different audiences throughout the UK. They believe branding is important and based on their pre-2013 research they believed 'control' would be a key narrative. In this sense control relates to increased awareness of energy usage leading to potential behaviour change leading to energy and subsequent cost savings. A potential barrier to engagement has been the 'newness' of the technology which can lead to consumer uncertainty. The role SEGB have identified in effective communication is to ensure householders recognise the benefits before and after installation.

In terms of dissemination routes, whilst the UK media landscape has changed a great deal in recent years, TV still dominates in terms of media consumption, and outdoor and direct marketing are still popular[9]. A range of communication channels will be needed. Partnerships are considered to be an effective way to reach vulnerable groups, such as through charities like CSE. Maintaining momentum, keeping messages fresh, interesting and keeping all aboard are key points to keep in mind, whilst ensuring dissemination of information is phased, targeted to the rights groups, timed well and budgeted for accordingly.


Dissemination messages SMDB have previously come up with are:

  • 'Take control'
  • 'Smart meters enable a smarter relationship with energy consumption'
  • 'Create a positive vision of a smart energy future'
  • 'Evolve messages and engagement activities to respond to consumer feedback throughout the roll-out'
  • Use customer testimonials to promote benefits

GB Energy have recently launched Youtube videos and marketing material featuring characters named Gaz and Leccy, which is yet to be found to be effective or not. Previously, Victoria Australia were ineffective in communication which led to audiences forming their own narratives, the newly elected Government then formed a consumer-focused communication message; California developed an award-winning communication campaign which led to relatively low levels of consumer concern; Ontario ran a Government-led campaign co-branded with energy suppliers referencing Government materials, this focused on shifting demand using a time-of-use tariff and resulted in little public public. Examples of materials from these campaigns are shown below.

Examples of smart metering public engagement materials [9]

One key element to bear in mind is that messages of benefits and concerns should be separated. In partnering to promote messages the community groups should be involved from the start; individuals and groups should be educated to promote the benefits effectively; the groups should have regular meetings with energy companies during roll-out to ensure concerns are resolved and the communication impact develops.

Tailored narratives

Tailoring messages to specific groups could lead to increased interest from the public, as oppose to using one message which only motivates one particular section of society. This in turn could lead to an overall better understanding of smart metering across the UK.There are numerous ways to segment, or categorise, the population. For example, Vicky (and Will Anderson) here at CSE previously used the following categories within her research on consumer preferences for home energy displays[10]:

  • Group 1: Prepayment meter users
  • Group 2: Under 30 years old
  • Group 3: 60-69 years old
  • Group 4: 30-59 years old, socio-economic group A/B/C
  • Group 5: 30-59 years old, socio-economic group D

Whilst the research noted differences between the groups, a clear consensus came through in relation to the design of smart home displays, which may be useful in designing communication narratives which is to focus on money and the cost of energy use, and not on power. participants from the study did learn from the displays, and also from each other and their common experiences.

Another popular method of categorising the population in relation to attitudes is the DEFRA Pro-environmental Attitudes Framework which divides the general public into the following key groups:

  • Positive Greens (18% UK population)
  • Waste watchers (12%)
  • Concerned consumers (14%)
  • Sideline supporters (14%)
  • Cautious participants (14%)
  • Stalled starters (10%)
  • Honestly disengaged (18%)

An awareness of the split between attitudes could be useful to bear in mind when directing messages at groups.


Identifying typical householder values may be useful in designing effective tailored messages. Previous research on householder values may be of use within this process. Research by Haines et al (2007) on user values in the home within a technology driven smart home project, identified that 82.5% of the population value non-technology items within the home above all else[11]. For example, relaxation/home comforts was valued most highly by the largest portion of householders (12 out of 40 participants), followed by family (7), garden/neighbourhood (6), living/social space (5), appliances (4), cars/bikes (3), objects/art (2) and pets (1). However, in terms of things that saved people time 85% were found to value technology most highly in this respect; at the top of the list for time saving technologies was those which help to clean/wash/tidy (18 out of 139), followed by cooking/drinks (9), comfort/hygiene (3), entertainment (3), information/communications (3) and transport (3). Of things that make people feel safe in the home the research found technology accounted for 36% of responses; of which barriers (14 out of 39 participants) ranked highest, followed by alerts/alarms/deterrents (14), communications (5), human support (5) and automatic cut off (1). Whilst the responses found within this study were from 2007, pre-smart meters, the results are likely to still be relevant for many households at present but may change in the future. The research also found that people do not display and share information in one single place or using one single technique; people are likely to leave impromptu notes and messages in context specific locations around the home - a single interface such as an in-home display unit may not fit with this behaviour, however smart phones might help in this way.

Findings from the UK Energy Demand research Project (EDRP) highlighted that engineers and energy specialists tend to forget that the average householder is not familiar with energy units; or may not be interested; or may be alienated by numerical displays

Interest of health and social care sectors and understanding of 'cold homes' link to health

words here
  1. Arquiva and YouGov (2015) Are our cities really getting smarter? Available at: http://www.arqiva.com/news/press-releases/are-our-cities-really-getting-smarter/
  2. Metering.com 03.07.15 Available at: http://www.metering.com/uk-residents-unware-of-smart-city-developments-survey/
  3. DECC (2015) Smart Meters, Great Britain, Quarterly report to end March 2015. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/smart-meters-statistics
  4. 4.0 4.1 Smart Energy GB infographic National Smart Meter Awareness Available at: http://www.smartenergygb.org/smart-meter-awareness
  5. DECC (2014) Quantitative Research into Public Awareness, Attitudes, and Experience of Smart Meters: Wave 4 summary of key findings. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/quantitative-research-into-public-awareness-attitudes-and-experience-of-smart-meters-wave-4
  6. DECC (2012) Smart Meters: research into public attitudes. Research conducted by Navigator. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/smart-meters-research-into-public-attitudes
  7. Smart Meter Central Delivery Body (2014) Consumer attitudes to the energy market and smart meters, Power Point presentation. Available at: http://www.smartenergygb.org/sites/default/files/presentation-1-media-publication.pdf
  8. www.parliament.uk(2013) Consumer concerns and engagement. Public attitudes to smart metering. Available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmenergy/161/16110.htm
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Smart Meter Delivery Body, 2013. Engagement Plan for Smart Meter Roll-out. Available from: http://www.smartenergygb.org/sites/default/files/engagement-plan-1213.pdf
  10. Anderson, W. and White, V., 2009. Exploring consumer preferences for home energy display functionality. Report to the Energy Saving Trust
  11. Haies, V., Mitchel, V., Cooper, C. and Maguire, M. 2007. probing user values in the home environmennet within a technology driven Smart Home Project, Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, vol. 11, pp.349-359