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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 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 GB total is currently around 1 million[3]. As the British Foundation stage of trials and pilot projects closes, in the transition to the wider roll-out smart meters will predominantly start to be installed from 2016, with a peak in installation expected in 2019.

Around 18% of people in Britain 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 (energy monitor) with the smart meter, so it’s likely that only 3% of householders had a smart meter and the rest had a clip-on energy monitor. 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 GB 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].

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 GB 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[7]:

  • Costs and its impact on bills
  • Uncertainty over the benefits of smart meters
  • Health issues
  • Data protection and privacy

Cost of smart meters, and uncertainty over the benefits of smart meters

Many of these public concerns are underpinned by suspicions about smart meters and where the roll-out had initiated from. A CMA report[8] highlighted that in the decade since 2004, in real terms average domestic electricity prices have increased by 75% and gas prices by 125%. People are questioning what benefits the energy suppliers are getting from the smart meter roll-out, and what’s in it for them.[9] In a climate of customers subsidising energy technologies and efficiency measures via their bills, the arrival of ‘another innovation’ can generate public wariness as to if/when they’ll bear the cost. The price of the GB smart meter roll-out has been estimated at £11 billion with a net benefit overall to consumers of £5.73 billion and to energy suppliers of £8.26 billion.[10]

There is a deep mistrust of energy suppliers (51% of the British public do not trust any energy suppliers)[9]. This is impeding the smart meter roll-out and further impacts on customer engagement, for example in the public’s willingness to engage in shifting demand via Time of Use (ToU) tariffs or in adopting demand responsive technologies like heating systems or appliances that operate at off peak times.

Health issues
Mr Smarty Pants and his side effects[11]

Groups such as Stop Smart Meters (UK) have concerns around the health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and radio frequencies(RFs) emitted by smart meters.[7] They are claimed to have direct effects like fatigue, sleep disturbance, heart palpitations, dizziness and nausea, and indirect effects like cancer, infertility and DNA damage. Research presented by Stop Smart Meters (UK) highlights that many studies have shown biological effects at radiation levels below that recommended by the ICNIRP [International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection]. They particularly object to the wireless technology employed by smart metering, and suggest a precautionary approach to exposure to this sort of radiation especially by children. However there is strong evidence from Public Health England (PHE) and the Institution of Engineering Technology's Biological Effects Policy Advisory Group (BEPAG) that the balance of research to date suggests that current guidelines regarding low-level exposure to radio waves are correct and that smart meter exposures fall well within these guidelines. For example exposure of the public to radio frequencies from a smart meter are small compared to other radio frequency applications (e.g.thousands of times lower than that from a mobile phone) and very small compared to recommended levels. Radio frequencies have been ranked as a possible group 2B human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organisation (IARC). There is no call for any reclassification. The benefits of radio frequencies needs to be assessed alongside any risks, and it must be born in mind that other commonly encountered group 2B human carcinogens include alcoholic drinks, coffee, shift working, surgical implants and petrol exhaust fumes. In the Netherlands public health concerns were addressed by whether smart meter communications systems in the home were turned on or off.

Data protection and privacy

Roll-outs in the US faced considerable opposition due to public concerns about data protection and privacy. For this reason DECC has been proactive from an early stage at addressing these concerns. Since March 2013 energy suppliers can only collect domestic energy data more than once a day with consent.[7] They can also only collect information that they need on energy use or energy-using appliances (with consent), as well as complying with existing Data Protection legislation. The Data Communications Company (DCC) is the intermediary organisation which handles all data from smart meters, and liaises with energy suppliers, network operators and other relevant organisations to provide data access with permission. It operates under the Smart Meter Communication Licence, regulated by Ofgem, which also scrutinises its costs and revenues to ensure value for money. Under the licence, the DCC must also comply with the Smart Energy Code (SEC), as must all energy suppliers, network operators and other relevant parties that want to use DCC services.

The extent of concern about privacy issues in GB does not appear to be high. British Gas smart metering trials conducted in 2013[12] found that with reassurance 94% of households were not concerned about data collection. Privacy seems to be more of an issue for older age groups (especially for those aged 45-54 years) rather than the 18-34 years age group.[13] Research from 2012[6] suggested that a main public concern was about data being used for unsolicited marketing, and that there was little understanding of what Data Protection actually involved. Only those with a specific interest in technology were concerned about data security in relation to smart meters. Energy consumption data wasn't regarded as sensitive information. There was some consumer questioning of why energy suppliers would want more than monthly energy usage data, which indicates a need to inform consumers about the financial and environmental benefits of the metering upgrade.

Consumers have the option to opt out of having a smart meter in GB, given the resistance that mandatory roll-out met in other countries. In US health and privacy issues on smart metering resulted in opposition e.g. a smart meter moratorium, police accompanying installers to prevent interference with installation, and consumers not being at home repeatedly. This highlighted the need for consumer and political/local engagement before roll out. This has been dealt with in the US and the Netherlands by allowing opt out, or of putting consumers that refuse a smart meter on a 'delay' installation list. They often opt in later on.

In California consumers who opt out of having a smart meter pay extra charges to cover the cost to the supplier of reading their meter manually. It is unclear whether this might also occur in GB. There is not enough information at present for suppliers as to what is considered acceptable by DECC and Ofgem on the supplier obligation to 'take all reasonable steps' to encourage householders to install a smart meter.[7]

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

In 2013 the Smart Meter Consumer Delivery Body engagement strategy determined four major trends that would impact on domestic consumer engagement with smart meters. These have been explored during Foundation stage smart metering trials and will continue to be explored and addressed during the wider roll-out.

  • Distrust in corporations. This can be combated through involvement of trusted charities, local authorities and other third party messengers.
  • Networked Britain. This presents an opportunity to communicate on energy use through web and phone-based technologies.
  • Squeezed Britain. Reducing energy waste through advice before, during and after the installation process. EDF smart meter trials found that proactive engagement with householders before installation is needed, as is energy advice and technical information during installation.[7]
  • Understand my priorities. Tailoring messages to householder-specific needs.

Motivations and barriers to domestic consumer engagement with smart meters

The major motivations perceived by consumers about engagement with smart meters are:[9]

  1. Control over energy costs
  2. Access to information about energy use for reducing energy waste and tariff comparison purposes
  3. Opportunity to save money
  4. Accurate bills
  5. Maintenance/enhancement of personal comfort
  6. Having a reliable energy supply.

Other benefits mentioned include:[14] choosing to use energy when it's cheapest, energy suppliers knowing when you've lost power, and creating a smarter energy sector.

For smart Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) customers the biggest benefits are seen as greater access to information and better energy management, especially by 18-34 year olds. Smart PAYG was found to appeal most to current prepayment meter customers. 48% of households in the South West (and the same percentage in GB) were interested in smart PAYG. 59% of 18-34 year olds expressed an interest.[4]

The barriers identified to smart meters have included:

  1. Consumer apathy
  2. Mistrust of energy suppliers
  3. Data protection and privacy
  4. The installation process

And in thinking about demand side response:

  1. Loss of autonomy and control
  2. Disruption to household routines

2013 research[13] found that 49% of 18-34 year olds were concerned about the smart meter installation process, whereas only a quarter of other age groups found this an issue. This has not been identified as a concern in other studies.

Householder apathy or active blocking of smart meter installation can occur. For example suppliers are finding that the roll-out is hampered due to access issues. A 2013 report found that less than 50% of households with smart meter installation appointments actually completed the install.[7] Besides mistrust of energy suppliers, this may in part be due to the unclear pattern of installation and the slide in the roll-out timetable. The figure may have changed since 2013 as the rate of installation increases.

The smart meter roll-out may also be interpreted by some consumers as another 'supplier marketing ploy'. The shifting timescales of the roll-out presents an opportunity to optimise on householder engagement, by promoting knowledge of the personal and wider advantages of smart metering technologies to householders. [15]

One potential barrier not mentioned by consumers, probably because of low awareness, is smart meter compliance - the change from SMETS1 to SMETS2 smart meters - scheduled to occur in 2016 alongside the introduction of the DCC. For clients who already have (SMETS1) smart meters, they are likely to lose smart meter functionality if they choose to switch supplier. This will in effect hamper their ability to switch supplier in the near future unless they are happy to have a smart meter operating in dumb mode. Energy suppliers seem reluctant to install a smart meter when one already exists at a property.

Engagement with non-domestic customers: barriers and opportunities

This section is based on a report by the Carbon Trust [16]. The report organises the benefits to non-domestic customers of smart metering under five main headings, summarised in the figure below.

Smart meter enabled innovations for non-domestic customers[17]

There are two major impediments to engaging the non-domestic sector in the smart meter roll out.

  1. Energy suppliers are not currently motivated to help non-domestic customers reduce their energy use.  Under the current model of roll-out through suppliers, energy demand reduction could occur if there is a stronger sense of suppliers needing to build trusted relationships with businesses by offering a value added service. This would help suppliers reduce churn and costs, and pay for these additional services.
  2. SMEs may tend to treat fuel use as an essential overhead with relatively small savings potential.  They may be less willing to invest and engage in energy demand-reducing services from suppliers or third parties.  SMEs in particular tend to fall between the cracks in terms of smart meter deployment between the drive of the mass domestic sector, and large businesses who actively manage their energy use and are likely to garner the most immediate benefit from smart metering services. 

The potential avenues (Utilities, Third parties, Direct and Device/appliance manufacturers ) through which smart meter services could be provided to non-domestic customers are summarised below.

Available routes to market for innovative products and services for non-domestic customers[18]

There are a number of major issues and opportunities that need to be addressed for smart meter services to reach non-domestic customers:

  1. Availability of affordable smart meter data for services provided via third parties or directly.  Data would be provided via the DCC or CADs (with uncertainty on how this will work outside of the DCC).
  2. Availability of innovative services that digest smart meter data and provide energy reduction recommendations, in particular for time and resource-pressed SMEs.
  3. Engagement of all sizes of organisation via practical, action-orientated customised advice, based on building performance evaluation, location, weather and energy use information. Whilst non-SMEs are mandated under the EU ESOS (Energy Saving Opportunities Scheme) to have a physical audit, SMEs are not. Remote audits can be low cost and accessible to all non-domestic customer sizes.
  4. Communication of the savings potential of energy reducing actions and the payback period. Device disaggregation can also add greater insights on appliances and their use.  The financial benefits of demand reduction can be further enhanced through automated DSR, especially if linked with ToU tariffs.
  5. Uptake of virtual power plant demand response opportunities by smaller businesses is predicted to be low before 2020. 

The figure below summarises potential development pathways and their time scales for non-domestic customers.

Development pathways for smart meter services for non-domestic customers[19]

Key innovations that would accelerate engagement of the non-domestic sector in the smart meter roll out and services

  • Provide demonstration projects, in particular demonstrations of Analytics and pattern recognition,  Device disaggregation and DSR through consortia of customers/building owners, technology experts and utilities.
  • Investigate the availability of building data.  A US company considers that it needs a year’s worth of data and an address to generate accurate energy advice, but it needs to be based on good building data. DECC is developing the ND NEED (non-domestic national energy efficiency data-framework) database, which covers buildings with about 30% of non-domestic electricity consumption. Whilst there is high consistency between the Display Energy Certificate, floor space and energy consumption, the database is not representative and needs additional records. There is therefore a need to hold building information centrally or regionally, to enable smart meter innovative services to progress and be taken up.
  • Make the benefits attractive to customers.  A significant barrier was identified in that currently there are split incentives between landlords and tenants for uptake of innovative smart meter services. Energy costs are recovered through the service charge which tenants pay. Tenants may not wish to invest in energy advice (or have a smart meter fitted) if they cannot make fabric efficiency improvements or will not be resident for long. Landlords won’t directly benefit so are unlikely to invest (unless energy use can be tethered to long term benefits to the property).

Individual, community and business engagement and behaviour change opportunities

Domestic consumers: research on engagement with smart technology and behaviour change opportunities


A 2014 Korean study[20] of factors affecting domestic consumer engagement with smart grids broadly identifies a methodology towards acceptance of smart technology. It used a model - RITAM (Risk Integrated Technology Acceptance Model) - to assess the effects of various 'exogenous variables' e.g. health issues on the acceptance of smart grids. From the figure below, the research conclusions were that the intention to use smart grids was positively affected most strongly by Perceived Usefulness (reliable power supply, energy saving, environment), then Perceived Ease of Use (Compatibility and Understanding), and negatively by Perceived Risk (data protection, health issues, performance concerns). Perceived Risk didn't have a significant impact on Perceived Usefulness.  

The study highlights the need to enhance public understanding about smart grid technologies, emphasising usefulness and ease of use.  

Result of RITAM path analysis

In a broader sense there is a bigger issue to address around effective public engagement with smart metering. The majority of consumers are passive recipients of energy, where energy delivers activities like bathing and cooking. Energy itself doesn't generally capture the imagination, and most of the time is invisible (especially gas use). Goulden et al (2013)[21] identified two 'personas' of energy use and the smart grid - energy consumer and energy citizen. For the smart grid to achieve its full potential the frame of energy citizen is more apt. There is a need for institutional framing to move away from the current model of a passive energy consumer responding to price influences, where the agent of change is the technology. The frame of active energy citizen, managing consumption (and generation) is more apt, where co-construction/management is more apparent. These two frames can overlap and coexist. The intelligence of both users and technology are needed for optimal smart grid operation and to maximise CO2 reductions. Smart meter and IHD deployment, unless accompanied with greater user engagement, could be a missed opportunity.

Smart meters - estimated potential domestic energy demand reduction

The DECC (2015) Early Learning Project[15] found reductions of 2.3% in electricity consumption and 1.5% in gas from domestic smart meters. It stated that this is scope for durable energy reduction of 3% based on evidence from the research literature and trials worldwide. Smart meters can promote uptake of insulation and more efficient appliances, and improve knowledge about electricity use, but no general shift in routine energy-related behaviours and practices was observed.

There have been wildly differing reports in research on the potential reduction in energy consumption through use of smart meters. For example the UKERC Energy Efficiency Evaluation report cites a number of studies[22]:

  • a large US study by Opower which included neighbour comparison and injunctive norms (peer instruction/indication of what is normal behaviour) found electricity reductions of 1.4-3.3% These increased over the first two years and partially persisted if feedback via the In Home Display (IHD) ceased.  
  • a Swedish study (10,000 customers) found electricity savings of 0.74% versus a control group which increased electricity use by 1.5%.  
  • GB ERDP trials (large scale trials with a number of energy suppliers) delivered variable results, with a 3.8% reduction across projects in electricity use.

However a study in Northern Ireland[23] replacing prepayment meters with Advanced Meters found an 11-17% reduction in electricity use even accounting for type of home, heat type, and household characteristics.

Most investigation has focused on electricity use. Research has speculated that gas savings most likely from energy efficiency investment whereas electricity savings are from behaviour change. However this preempts potential savings from improved use of gas heating controls. A study by Foster and Mazur-Stommen (2012) found that the IHD was less effective at reducing gas use than electricity, but that installing a smart meter seemed to reduce gas consumption by 3%. A French Linky smart meter trial (400 households, 2013) found that a smart meter and feedback could lead to at least a 0.9% reduction in gas use.[22]

IHDs and energy use feedback

In Great Britain all domestic smart meters are supplied with an IHD (sometimes called a smart meter display). The IHD converts real-time smart meter data into digestable feedback on energy use for the householder. This normally includes current daily usage, the capacity to set a personal energy use target, historic energy consumption, tariff information, and (if on a smart prepayment meter) remaining credit and top up history.

Research has shown that feedback is successful in developing energy literacy and awareness, and in reducing energy consumption because it makes energy visible. Feedback is most successful when it focuses on specific tasks, and when it enhances the customer's sense of autonomy - of being in control of their energy use - and their personal efficacy - that they are competent at doing so via their IHD or by other means.[15]

Demand reduction is 100% based on user engagement. Consumers' use of smart meter information for energy reduction is influenced by:

  • their ability to make savings without compromising health or welfare (e.g. high energy users can make bigger savings)
  • the extent to which they can make changes to the building infrastructure, heating system or appliances
  • their income, and ability to invest energy efficiency measures
  • their ability to acquire new knowledge (influenced by their level of education, previous experience, age and social connections)

So it would be pertinent to ask a few key questions about the best way to engage customers with their IHD.

What design elements of an IHD facilitate user engagement?
British Gas IHD

The IHD design is crucial at engaging users with the device, and maintaining their involvement with it by providing energy information that is of interest to them[15]. In particular, traffic light feedback calibrated to customer energy usage (the amber light visible in the centre bottom of the pictured IHD) is effective but needs to be explored thoroughly as the red light can be overly alarming[24]. A simple, visually appealing display can be the first step to stimulate interest in energy use, and is accessible to people of all ages and literacy abilities.

How do people engage with IHDs?

The DECC Early Learning Project found that 96% of consumers with an IHD had plugged it in, and that 60% still had it plugged in at least 6 months after install. The decline in use of the IHD was also confirmed by Ovo Energy[7], that a third of IHDs were not in use after a year. The 44% of householders that used their IHD to monitor trends and anomalies in energy use got more benefit from it than those that just used it for appliance costing. This monitoring approach suggests longer term and regular active engagement. It suggests that a progression in use of the IHD needs to be facilitated to enable customers to gain maximum benefit:

  1. establish a base load (so anomalies in energy use can be identified)
  2. cost appliances (specific activities to enable energy choices to be made)
  3. ongoing monitoring (to observe longer term effects of energy choices)

This is supported by research by Hargreaves et al. (2012)[25] which highlighted that over time IHDs can become backgrounded and lose their impact (thus the need for additional engagement past the initial exploration of costing appliances). IHDs do increase house-holders’ knowledge of and confidence about the amount of electricity they consume, but do not necessarily encourage householders to reduce their consumption. In fact household practices may become harder to change once customers know how much an activity costs them. So householders need to be competent in using their IHD, and to be motivated to use it to reduce energy consumption. This was echoed in research[3] which identified two important barriers to use of IHDs - difficulties to understand the display and a lack of interest. This research highlighted the danger of over reliance on IHDs to promote energy reduction, encouraging different types of feedback techniques to be combined.

What other feedback platforms could complement IHDs?

Research has found that energy demand reduction is greater if a variety of feedback mechanisms are utilised. For example web or paper Home Energy Reports or smartphone apps can increase energy savings. However smartphone apps should not be considered an alternative to an IHD, and the effectiveness of other methods of feedback needs evaluation.[15] [22] It has also been noted that the higher frequency of Home Energy Reports, or of billing (monthly rather than quarterly) increases savings (but the increase in savings isn't equivalent to the increased administrative costs). Greater means and frequency of 'energy prompts' via multiple feedback channels and visual recall e.g. fridge magnets and stickers was similarly found to enhance energy reduction in research in Zurich.[26]

A remarkably sensible suggestion is to have a common smartphone app across suppliers.[27] Could this be initiated by DECC and Smart Energy GB?

Who uses the IHD?

Various studies[28][26]identified that families had more than one person using the IHD, and it was sometimes used as a tool for energy instruction (for example encouraging teenagers to take shorter showers by showing that the IHD red traffic light comes on when the shower's in use). However the IHD wasn't used as a focus of discussion ever by more than 30% of those in multiple person households in qualitative research.[15]

A fascinating study in multiple occupancy households (e.g. a student household where energy bills are equally split) explored the emotional and behavioural responses towards IHDs with more/less information, including anonymised or named energy users.[29] It found that an IHD with less information encouraged people to reduce energy consumption more than one with more detailed information, due to feelings of guilt and fear around energy use. If energy use was anonymised but unequal, people adopted practical actions like turning off devices on standby, but when 'free riders' (those who used more energy) were identified sanctions were imposed, like asking them to pay more. The research concluded that to encourage energy reduction having less information on the IHD is best in multiple occupancy dwelling, but that for occassional referencing or in a non-domestic managerial situation, more detailed information could be useful.

Energy use is a social collective process, so understanding more about social interactions around IHDs/energy data platforms could positively influence communication materials and the installation process.

What do we know about motivating people to reduce energy use via smart metering?

As previously noted, the two main obstacles to reducing energy use via smart metering technology is lack of interest/motivation and difficulty in understanding displays/feedback.


An EDRF Scottish Power trial[15] found that households motivated to opt into having a smart meter got more benefit from it than if it was a straightforward replacement. Also if the customer wasn't present when the smart meter was installed, they got less benefit from it, presumably due to lower understanding of IHD use and motivation. This implies that offering smart meters to households that are more open to the technology may be an effective approach.

In general, having realistic expectations of energy reduction was also important in motivating people in the use of IHDs.

The DECC smart meter Early Learning Project noted that public health approaches could be useful for energy-related behaviour change, for example the transtheoretical approach emphasises that information and awareness is required for people to move through the stages of precontemplation, contemplation and preparation before a change can occur. It also stressed that sophisticated social marketing approaches were most likely to be effective, and highlighted the challenges that this presents as it means identifying 'significant' population groups to target (people will fall into a number of groups).

One study used a gaming approach to explore awareness and consumer engagement, combining the use of IHDs, expert advice, social competition, and social comparison.[26] The BeAware - Boosting Energy AWAREness project - used energy tips to increase participants’ knowledge of energy demand reduction, and consumption feedback to reflect the results of energy saving actions. The gaming rationale involved using scores for participant awareness and consumption (e.g. with quizzes), and different levels of attainment and increasing difficulty/skill levels. Participants could also discuss energy use amongst themselves, integrating social comparison into the project. The research highlighted the need to build trust and to address the three key motivations - the environment, control over cost and comfort - in communications to increase consumer awareness of and engagement in energy reduction.

Screenshot of school dashboard, Covernance Energy Project

Making energy feedback easy to understand

Another study conducted in two UK schools explored the visual communication of smart meter data and its effect on energy consumption.[30] In one Bradford school staff and pupils had access to smart energy data via an online portal; in a London school data could be viewed on a dashboard displayed in pupil breakout areas. This display used traffic lights to indicate if the school was within its daily target. Training in use of the various media and energy conservation were given in both instances. It was found that over a 10 month period a reduction of 26% in energy use was made in the London school compared to 4% in the Bradford one.

Energy villain and victim depiction, Covernance Energy Project

The research found that visual communication of smart energy data was highly effective, concluding that any smart metering interface should include the capacity for visual communication. It also found that having visual peer comparison, visual financial savings and visual targets were all motivational: the London pupils all wanted their classrooms to use the least electricity. The project also displayed energy use as a villain (a butcher) and the energy target as a victim (a big sausage) rather than through the normal bars and charts, suggesting that smart metering interfaces that symbolically convey energy use (e.g. energy guzzling appliances) are more likely to facilitate long term behaviour change. Social learning in this instance took place in a school, but an IHD has capacity to facilitate social learning. This project also capitalised on pupil enthusiasm in taking home their energy efficiency learning to their families. So better visualisation of energy consumption will help entrench new and enduring habits. However it is worth considering that as sociotechnical interfaces change human perception also changes e.g. the sense of touch is more heightened when using a tablet than a PC. All sense channels (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, even spatial) need to be engaged to optimise learning.

The installation process as a major opportunity to engage householders

The DECC Early Learning Project identified three ‘transition points’ that households may go through when adopting smart meters, drawing on previously cited public health models on theories of change.  The figure below doesn’t visually acknowledge the pre-install awareness raising and communications work essential to smart meter roll-out success, but it is discussed in the report.

Smart meter installation transition points

Main aspects important to householder engagement at each stage are summarised below.

1) Engagement with installation of the smart meter

Pre-installation engagement

  • Broad public awareness and detailed information prior to installation are important to facilitate effective engagement.  Informal word of mouth is also useful.
  • Clear, reliable information that promotes realistic expectations is needed at all stages from SEGB and suppliers. Third parties (e.g charities) can disseminate information and provide detailed advice and guidance.
  • Social contacts are important influences on energy use and social learning is significant in developing energy literacy.

During installation

  • A positive installation experience is pivotal for consumer engagement. Installers need to be adequately trained, and have scripts to facilitate the ‘customer journey’. Time must be available during the installation to demonstrate use of the IHD and answer questions, to provide accompanying materials and offer tailored energy advice.
  • Supplier pre-install information on client needs will be useful to tailor energy efficiency information.
  • Groups that need additional support on IHD use are those with low literacy, a long term illness or disability, or prepay meter users.

Installers have identified consumer segments for smart meter installation: very informed, very informed but not tech savvy, tech savvy but no time to engage, and technophobes and don't engage.  The best mode to communicate about IHDs is a combination of written material, a chance for the customer to test out the display, and some personal explanation.  People seemed to learn best when they played with IHD on their own.

2) Engagement with information from the IHD

This can be facilitated by:

  • Having a well-designed IHD that promotes energy reduction
  • Calibrating the traffic lights to the householder
  • Encouraging an energy monitoring approach rather than ‘What uses Watt’ for all customers, including prepayment meter clients
  • Extra post-installation home support for vulnerable groups

3) Making changes in energy consumption

  • Smart Energy GB develops supporting materials, facilitates the activation of local support networks and encourages knowledge exchange.
  • Suppliers or third parties develop complementary feedback platforms to the IHD e.g. Home Energy Reports
  • Connections are made between general information, feedback, tailored advice and energy efficiency programmes to encourage uptake of energy efficiency measures and other synergies
  • The needs of vulnerable households, those in fuel poverty and rented accommodation are catered for
  • A knowledge base is built amongst actors involved in the roll-out
What other services or mechanisms could support householders in optimising use of their IHDs?

An example of a RSL providing support to households on use of their IHDs is given below (the Count Us In project, under Community organisations).

Knowle West Media Centre's 3E Houses project engaged with 100 Bristol City Council tenants to explore real time energy use using gas and electricity monitors linked to a wireless router and a highly visual website. Participants were given a tablet on which they could check online their energy use via the website, and track up to 5 appliances to find out how much they cost to use. They were also given energy advice and technical support.


Similarly the energy saving trust Smart Meter Advisory Project (SMAP)[31] explored the effect on energy literacy of a web-based tool which conveyed energy data from a smart meter, plus personalised energy advice, with 33 participants. Households were initially given access to the website which provided historic energy use data in £ and kWh. They also received advice and support from a dedicated advisor. In the second phase of the project (2013-2014) monthly email and phone prompts were made, encouraging participants to check the web-tool and act on specific advice. Nearly 90% of respondents in qualitative research said that they felt positive about their smart meter system, and a similar number said that it increased their energy literacy. Small behaviour changes like turning out lights when not in use were made by the majority of participants, and some considered or actioned installing energy saving measures.

CSE is integrating data from temperature and humidity sensors into its home visits in the CharIoT project. In the first phase (2015) 12 smart prepayment meter customers received detailed energy advice based on sensor information routed via broadband or a wireless router, and smart meter data. It also determined how households currently used their IHDs. The additional information provided significant insights and evidence when the various data streams could be compared, for example gas use, temperature and humidity. For example one household with significant mould in one unheated room was found to have a consistent humidity level of >70%. So far the project has found a split in that some households only engage with the first screen of their IHD which shows the current credit amount, whilst others are proactive in costing appliance use, monitoring fuel usage and use the information to make informed choices about installations and appliance purchase/use. Phase two of the project (Autumn/Winter 2015) will include carbon dioxide sensors to provide information on occupancy.

CSE explored customer attitudes and motivations around use of smart meters in the Smart and Happy Meters project (2012-2013). In focus groups it tested the ideas of automation of appliances, community rewards (e.g. suppliers reward community groups for their members energy reduction), and gamification of energy use via an online platform and points system. The project also explored the use of financial or non-financial (happiness) rewards to incentivising energy behaviour change. Happiness rewards include social connection, learning, noticing things, and giving. It turned out that the automation slider was a simple visually engaging tool which offered consumers some aspect of control. This idea was welcomed. The community rewards was supported but was more complex and raised many questions. Gamification was considered a powerful learning tool in schools, but not necessarily in the home.

Drawbacks on emphasis on the IHD (Buchanan, Shove?)

Other means to reduce energy use - smart billing

Demand Side Response - Time of Use (ToU) Tariffs

What behaviours and energy using practices are most open to change?

Community organisations: research on engagement with smart technology and behaviour change opportunities

An example of use of smart metering in schools is given above.

The Count Us In project[32] trialled smart meters with two social housing providers. Use of IHD was demonstrated and regularly repeated, and housing association staff had access to consumption data for giving personalised advice. The project found that smart meters lead some residents to think that they didn't need to change their habits to save energy. The traffic light system on IHD was useful but created some anxiety when using power-hungry appliances. If the installation process was a hassle residents disengaged from it. 30% of households missed their installation appointment as they changed their mind or were out and couldn't reschedule it.  Some couldn't have a smart meters due to technical issues.

A local authority has also participated in smart meter research.[33] Eight Leicester City Council staff explored energy management in libraries and admin buildings using smart phones and social media, giving real time comments on building issues. A web app (Good deeds) was viewable on smart phones and a website.  There were challenges in staff recruitment  due to redundancy and non-representation of staff teams. In hindsight it would have been better to build teams within buildings not across them. Most posting to Good deeds was done via computer not smart phone. Most participants weren't proactive FB/Twitter users, and there were reservations about the public nature of social media. Local authorities are also perceived as conservative re. social media and smart phones. Most participants didn’t consider it their job to be actively involved in energy management – this was a main barrier.

Businesses: research on engagement with smart technology and behaviour change opportunities


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? - will be added soon (10/08/15)

Vulnerable support

In 2013, work was carried out by the Smart Meter Central Delivery Body (SMDB), now Smart Energy GB, on finding effective ways to engage with all audiences[13],including vulnerable groups. The SMICoP outlines the minimum level of additional support smart meter installers must provide for vulnerable customers; including those with hearing and visual impairments, low levels of literacy or other known vulnerabilities. The pre, during and post pathway is shown below.

Pre during post journey.jpg

Classification of vulnerable households

The vulnerable groups relevant to smart metering, as defined by Smart Energy GB are shown below. Jenny Saunders of NEA stated that she was unsure enough was been done and that the scope of 'vulnerable customers' should be extended to include those who have language barriers and caring responsibilities[12].
Vulnerable household characteristics relevant to Smart Metering [33]

Smart meter installation pathways

Smart Energy GB have devised three potential pathways for vulnerable households who may need additional assistance to the average householder. Pathway 1 is the most straightforward and includes a strategy for making the process as simple as possible for the householder. Pathway 2 includes the offer of energy-efficiency measures and Pathway 3 includes guidance through fuel poverty/energy efficiency advice schemes.

Pathway 1 (Smart Energy GB)

Extra Help Pathway 1 [33]

Pathway 2 (Smart Energy GB)

Extra Help Pathway 2 [33]

Pathway 3 (Smart Energy GB)

Extra Help Pathway 3 [33]

Communication and dissemination routes – audiences and narratives

Communicating the purpose and benefits of smart meters to householders effectively will be key in their success[34].Smart Energy GB (SEGB), which started out in September 2013 as the Smart Energy Delivery Body (SMDB), have carried out research on public engagement, and will manage public engagement in the delivery and roll-out of smart meters. As part of this, large workshops and knowledge sharing events have been held with the aim of developing 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, and the findings of the workshops have been published.

SEGB have identified three key stages for engagement: before and during installation, engagement with information from the smart meter (in-home display), and making changes in energy consumption[35]. Each stage is mainly concerned with providing clear, reliable information and inspiring people to engage, while ensuring vulnerable groups receive the appropriate support.

British Gas have expressed concern in getting customers engaged or interested in the first place. In addition, they find that the lengthy booking process resulting from regulatory requirements often deters customers. They feel that a broad, consistent message could help with this - one question they are often asked is 'What is a smart meter?'. Smart Energy GB may assist in this area - or it may adopt 'advertising campaigns' as opposed to customer engagement ideas[12].

SEGB took insights from smart meter roll-outs in other countries noting that successful campaigns promoted immediately accessible consumer benefits, such as controlling what you spend[34]. In addition, they found effective communication including notifying the public about who they can turn to for advice, ensuring that those groups are trusted by communities. The most effective strategies also used customer queries as a learning tool to 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' - the consumer may not actually use the information from them, and so further engagement may be necessary to ensure people start to use the technology.[34]

The Early Learning Project[36] found that older smart meter customers from lower social grades were least likely to have an existing awareness of smart meters (pre-installation). Generally, those over 75 were least satisfied with the installation process and recalled the least amount of information from the visits; some felt overwhelmed, with around a third feeling dissatisfied with the explanations of home displays. However, 90% of all participants were satisfied with the overall installation process, which could lead to subsequent satisfaction with using the smart meter post-installation.

As the audience is essentially the entire GB 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 Great Britain. 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 national 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[34]. 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 SEGB 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

SEGB 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.

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

Smart Meter technology has the possibility of aiding those with long-term health conditions related to living in cold homes. This may be through communicating direct with the householder about energy use and indoor temperatures, or through data sharing with local GPs. This is controversial as data sharing will require permission, in addition set up and run costs may be high.

Research by NEA for Citizens Advice highlighted potential pathways to communicate with vulnerable groups, pre, during and post-installation enabling installers to meet SMICoP regulations effectively[37]. NICE Guidance[38] recommends that all meter installers are trained to help the most vulnerable and provide information in a way that can be understood, in addition to awareness of how the cold home can affect health - an accreditation scheme may be used.

Previous research 'titled 'Project Hydra' has been found on using telecare support in collaboration with Smart Meters[39]. Clinicians accessed data via a web clinical interface and were able to act on anomalies (for 13 participants). The data transmitted included blood pressure data using a Zigbee wireless enabled blood pressure meter, in conjunction with weight scales. This enabled one participant with high blood pressure to be provided with more suitable medication. In relaity this may be time consuming for doctors and complex/costly to set up.

The NHS promote telecare to enable patients 'to live independently in their own homes' (using alarms and health monitoring)[40], which could be an area to keep up-to-date on.
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