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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.

In terms of demand-side response, Spence et al. (2015)[15] found that cost and control over energy use are the key benefits perceived by individuals. However it was found that those most concerned about energy use - for example people on prepayment meters or in lower social grades - were less likely to accept DSM. Those concerned about climate change were likely to be more accepting. Also, people concerned about affordability were unwilling to or were concerned to share energy data. Given that prepayment meter customers can significantly benefit from smart meters and they are less willing to engage with them. It also follows that people on lower incomes or rented accommodation will be less willing to invest in smart technologies, as they may move home or have limited income to invest. This suggests that highlighting user autonomy to prepayment meter customers may help allay any scepticism about the use of energy data and the benefits that smart metering can accrue. It also indicates that emphasising financial benefits may not be useful in this instance, and that environmental benefits also should be mentioned.

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. [16]

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.

Public misconceptions about smart meters

Research in 2012[17] found that there were three main public misconceptions about smart meters. People:

  1. confused smart meters with enabling technologies like IHDs and smart thermostats
  2. thought that smart meters are designed so external agents can control their energy supply e.g. direct load control or switching off supply
  3. assumed that smart meters are being installed to ensure immediate consumer benefits like saving money on fuel bills

Misconceptions tend to overestimate rather than underestimate the personal impact of having a smart meter. Unrealistic public expectations about smart meters could hamper smart meter uptake and the use of energy feedback to facilitate ongoing energy demand reduction. The need for smart meter communications that dovetailed with customers' goals,values and beliefs was presented as a viable way forward to address these misconceptions. A national tracking survey of consumer concerns was also suggested to help with deployment and to identify specific issues, for example differences between tenants and home owners.

Ensuring customer acceptance of smart metering technologies, then, seems to hinge on a few crucial factors[9]:

  • communicating the future vision of the 'bigger picture' and the benefits of smart grids and smart technologies, to overcome consumer distrust and that smart meters are predominantly designed to benefit energy suppliers
  • emphasising the benefits that can be derived from smart technologies, and allaying consumer concerns
  • stressing consumer autonomy and control of energy use

Engagement with non-domestic customers: barriers and opportunities

This section is based on a report by the Carbon Trust [18]. 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

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

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

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[19] 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)[20] 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[16] 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[21]:

  • 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[22] 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. Findings from trials in Britain and Europe by VaasaETT and Beama cited reductions in energy use from IHDs of 9% for at least three years, although the typical financial savings (£147 pa) appear high.[23]

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.[21]

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.[16]

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[16]. 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.[16] [21] 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.[16]

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[16] 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 in two locations, Knowle West (predominantly houses, South Bristol) and Dove Street (flats, central Bristol) to explore real time energy use using gas and electricity monitors linked to a wireless router and a highly visual website. It also integrated automated control of heating, and temperature/humidity sensors. 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 also received energy advice and technical support, provided interactively in Knowle West with ongoing contact through workshops and communications, and remotely in Dove Street.

There was a marked difference between the two areas in the number of times the website was accessed and energy feedback checked, with Knowle West having a greater and more sustained interfacing. The project found that energy savings were higher in Knowle West, with gas savings of 20%, whereas no savings occurred in Dove Street. The enhanced public engagement in Knowle West also helped with participant retention, with all participants in Knowle West completed the final project questionnaire. Overall Bristol participants saved 10% on their fuel bills, and 70% opted to retain the sensor kits which is positive for future smart city/smart metering initiatives.[31]

The Energy Saving Trust Smart Meter Advisory Project (SMAP)[32] 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.

There are a growing number of projects investigating the use of ICT and smart meters on energy demand reduction, for example:

  • 22 projects supported by (Build) TEDDI (Transforming Energy Demand through Digital Innovation)
  • Ice Wish (Intelligent Control (smart metering, wireless technology, cloud computing, and user-oriented display information), Energy and Water wastage reductions In European Social Housing)

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 smart technologies

Is there undue emphasis on the 'tailpipe' end of energy use, by focusing on the consumer?

In terms of behaviour change, individual models (where the person is the focus of action) are a useful and valid lens, but are not the only one. Social practice theory, pioneered in GB by Elizabeth Shove offers a different interpretation, in which practices (like bathing and laundry) are the focus of attention, through which change can occur. Practices are ‘composed of three elements, materials (e.g washing machine), meaning (or convention e.g. cleanliness) and procedures (legislation and regulation, proficiency in use of equipment, and schedules). Practices can be reconfigured through changing their elements, for example the ToU CLNR trials suggested that to optimise energy demand reduction devices (materials) needed to be reconfigured.[33] Attempts to govern social practices can work when technology and techniques fit within existing domestic configurations (and can then reassemble and realign them). Material means deployed by government, companies or community organisations have the capacity to change conduct.  Information alone won't do it.

If we are to understand how people engage with energy systems, it is not the meter that needs to get smarter, but our understanding of what energy is for and how it is used.[34]

Adopting a social practice theory approach involves limiting engagement with households through the meter and the energy supply chain, to concentrate on practices and their components. Rather than focusing on finding the flexible ‘early adopter’ population segment, research suggests that flexibility is tied into practices which can be changed by modifying practice elements, e.g. high consumption appliances or 'the meaning of clean'.  Industry, regulation and the government’s position is key to addressing specific practices. For example in 2014 an EU Energy Efficiency directive reduced vacuum cleaner wattage to 1600 watts as a means to reduce energy use. In a weird backlash this resulted in shops selling out of more powerful vacuum cleaners before the legislation came into force. People questioned whether they would reduce energy use as they may need to vacuum for longer to achieve the same level of carpet cleanliness. So for now the juries out. A social practice theory approach can complement individual behaviour change models, and facilitate more far-reaching societal energy demand reduction (possibly at a slower pace).

The figure below[35] intimates this in the growing empowerment of consumers and smart grid potential, primarily mentioned at the higher levels (top right) through use of smart devices and home automation network. However for sustainable change to occur at least two practice elements need to be reconstructed. Smart meter technologies focuses on the material element; the procedures and meanings inherent in any practice also need to be reconstituted.

Consumer engagement and smart grid potential

Time of Use (ToU) Tariffs

Time of Use (ToU) tariffs utilise variable cost for fuel to encourage a shift in demand from peak to off peak time, to potentially reduce the need to fire up power stations to meet peak need. Britain already has two ToU tariffs – Economy 7 and Economy 10. These are static tariffs (the price is set), but it is possible to have dynamic tariffs, reflecting the availability of electricity from renewable sources.

As an example of a ToU tariff and direct load control, the US energy supplier ComEd is trialling offering customers with a smart meter and thermostat a cash incentive or credits to cut use at times of peak demand. When the supplier schedules an Energy Savings Day, customers are offered up to US$40 to reduce air conditioning during summer periods of high demand. Temperature can be automatically adjusted by the utility company from 1-4pm, but the customer can override and can retain control at any time. The company also offers Peak Time Service, a tariff whereby customers receive $1 credit to their electricity bill for every kWh they save during Peak Time Saving hours. It's estimated that customers have saved a total of US$135,000.[36]

In Britain, British Gas conducted a ToU trial as part of the Customer-Led Network Revolution.[37]  It offered an Off peak saver rate (Day -4% of relative p/kWh, peak +99% 4-8pm, night & weekend -31%) i.e. 20 hours of reduced cost electricity.  A 1 year trial showed weekday reductions in peak consumption of 13.7%, almost 10% more than a control group that just had a smart meter and IHD. This behaviour continued over the weekend (when there was no incentive to do so), with an 8.2% reduction in peak use for the ToU group compared to 5.2% in the control. If scaled up across Britain this would be equivalent to 2 GW or three power stations.

Overall consumption in the ToU group fell by 5.45%, whereas for the control group it fell by 3.91%. 

On average the ToU customers consumed 3% less than the control group and their peak consumption was 10% lower.

Over the length of the trial 60% of ToU customers saved an average of £31, whereas 40% spent on average £24 more. Appliances that shifted in use time were dishwashers and washing machines, not cookers, indicating the types of practices that were amenable to demand side response.

British Gas now offers a small group of customers a ToU tariff with free electricity on weekends, and has a real time phone app for live energy information.

Research by the UCL Energy Institute for SEGB (2015)[38] on ToU tariffs with around 4000 people found that 30% of respondents were interested in a static ToU tariff. The most popular other option was direct load control, where a supplier alters the heating time and the customer gets a lower flat tariff rate, but they have unlimited override. People considered this easy, whereas dynamic ToU was perceived as difficult to use and intrusive. People on Economy 7 were very likely to switch to a static ToU tariff.  Neither age, gender, housing tenure, employment status, education, social grade, being on a pre-payment meter, nor income were consistently associated with being more or less willing to switch to a ToU tariff in these studies. Therefore there is no evidence of benefits in targeting any particular segment or group to encourage early adoption.

Also, telling people about the financial, environmental and energy security implications of ToU tariffs made no difference to their willingness to switch to the tariff.

The House of Commons Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change[27] adopted a cautious approach, considering that mandatory ToU tariffs alongside smart meter roll out could confuse the public. The benefits of ToU tariffs could be limited, for example for vulnerable households with inflexible work patterns. It highlighted that a major shift in understanding is needed, and recommended to bring ToU tariffs at a later stage in the smart meter roll out.

Smart billing

People are often discouraged due to the complexity of their energy bills. Research by VaasaETT (reported in [39] ) drew on international examples of smart billing and found that monthly billing was the optimal frequency of bills to increase energy awareness. Key components of smart bills are:

  • normative energy consumption
  • tips on how to reduce energy consumption
  • tips on benefiting from ToU or other dynamic tariffs
  • historical consumption
  • an indication of the various elements of the bill and who is responsible
  • pollution/emissions from billed energy use.

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

People are most willing to adopt low cost low lifestyle impact behaviour changes like switching off lights and appliances when not in use or shortening shower times. Heating appeared less open to change. Support mechanisms for energy demand reduction that were found to be most effective were Home Energy Reports (1-3% consistent savings) and intensive community-based interventions like Eco teams (8-10%).[40] ToU trials suggest that laundry and dish washing are flexible practices, but cooking and bathing are less so.

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[41] 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.[42] 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

SMEs predominantly use energy 9am-5pm and so do not contribute to the evening peak in energy use. The amount of energy they use is not linearly related to number of employees, for example smaller SMEs (10-49 employees) had proportionately the highest demand.  British Gas trials with SMEs[37] identified energy-related activities that were amenable to demand side response.  Chillers, shop floor fridges, swimming pools and storage heating systems could be shifted to work outside the evening peak time.  Walk in fridges are accessed at night (during restocking of the shop floor) and so consume most energy during that time, so present less of an energy shifting opportunity. Lighting was less amenable to shifting but energy use could be reduced through timers, motion sensors and energy efficient lighting.

In ToU trials, demand in the super peak evening time actually slightly increased whilst day time use decreased.  SMEs are interested in ToU tariffs but there are numerous variables which influence energy use in small organisations.

British Gas also attempted to trial a restricted hours tariff (restricted use during the super peak period) and direct control but found it difficult to recruit SMEs. Organisations were reticent to engage with uncertain electrical interruptions because they were service providers, driven by their users to offer services at certain times.  There were also regulatory drivers such as animal welfare for farms and environment and Health and Safety issues in hospitality and catering sectors such as having hot water in toilets, and safe storage of foodstuff.

Research suggests that temporal factors limit SMEs capacity to shift load but that there is flexibility with some appliances and activities to reduce energy use.

Support needs of vulnerable households and approaches to local provision

Private sector fuel poverty in Bristol 2012.jpg

How smart meters might affect vulnerable groups

According to Sustainability First, the cost differences between prepayment customers and standard meter customers should reduce, if a common type of meter for gas and electricity is rolled out[43]. Consumer groups have highlighted the potential for smart metering information to be used to help in identifying and protecting vulnerable customers[44].

Local fuel poverty

The map below (from 2012) shows the percentage of fuel poor households per Bristol area within the private rented sector[42], which may be useful in targeting messages to individual areas.

What should Bristol City Council's role be?

The 'Closer to Home' report by ACE, CSE, CAG and Citizens advice on providing greater locally-led energy efficiency and fuel poverty services strongly recommended that Government funding is provided to local authorities to take the lead on delivering fuel poverty services within their local area:"Local authorities are democratically accountable bodies with relevant local knowledge and important responsibilities for housing, health and well-being, and economic development"[45].

Vulnerable support

The Smart Metering Installation Code of Practice (SMICoP) sets out the minimum standards for tailoring advice and information for vulnerable groups. Vulnerable groups should be treated in the appropriate way and measures taken to ensure they understand the purpose of smart meters and understand how to use them and engage with the home display. The guidance sets our legislation and guidance for installers at the pre, during and post installation stage and is detailed further in the SMICoP section of the regulatory Wiki page.

Under the SMICoP, a person is classed as vulnerable if: "for reasons of age, health, disability, or sever financial insecurity, they are unable to safeguard their personal welfare or the personal welfare of other members of the household".[46] See the next sub-section for more on defining vulnerable groups.

Pilot proposals for providing extra help to vulnerable households [46]

Citizens Advice make the following recommendations to ensure all customers benefit from smart meters:

  • Define vulnerability (considering the practical implications for this)
  • Help in the most appropriate way: Community based/ supplier led.
  • Offer the choice for extra help services - an 'opt-in' method.
  • Speak the customer's language
  • Use a range of channels in recognition of different consumer needs
  • Develop a 'one-stop shop' to help customers navigate
  • Partners can help build trust - like CSE :)

The diagram on the right presents the four pilot proposals Citizens Advice designed to provide extra help to vulnerable households, they are not mutually exclusive and they recommend each option is piloted in a comparable manner to aid decision making.

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[45], including vulnerable groups. Partnerships are considered to be an effective way to reach vulnerable groups[45], 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[45].

NEA and RS Consulting carried out research for Consumer Focus and DECC on vulnerable 'early adopter' experiences of smart meter installations[47]. The study included eight focus groups with vulnerable customers from British Gas, E.On, alongside 36 in-depth interviews with households; 15 vulnerable customers and 3 non-vulnerable customers from both British Gas and E.On. The vulnerable criteria was: the presence of people aged over 65 in the household;the presence of children aged under 16 in the household; chronic physical health conditions; mental health conditions; a household income of less than £10,000 per annum; receipt of means tested benefits; an education level of fewer than five O-levels/GCSEs (as a proxy indicator for potential literacy or numeracy problems). The E.On customers had opted in and the British Gas customers were provided with smart prepay meters as an 'end-of-life' replacement for their old meters. Those who opted in were informed about the potential benefits of smart meters during the offer, British Gas customers were not, however overall they did not see this as a problem. Support needs of customers were typically not assessed. Overall, customers were happy with the pre-installation contact. During installation was also generally fine with visits taking around two hours, except where complications occurred. Guidance on using the in-home display was received by the vast majoirty of participants but some participants felt this was rushed, many felt there was too much information to take in at once and some blamed themselves for not remembering details. Confusion relating to the traffic light system was noted and some customers remained concerned when this showed a red light. Whilst most customers felt they received enough information, approximately half had unanswered questions - in relation to how the display related to their bill and for some whether powering the IHD would lead to an increase in energy use[47].

In terms of post-installation support, both suppliers within the NEA study/RS Consulting study, provided customers with booklets and only a very small number had not received one. Roughly half of customers had either only flicked through the booklet or not looked at it at all. Some of these customers just had not yet found the time to read the booklet, others preferred to learn by doing and a small number felt they would not be able to understand the booklet due to a literacy or language barrier. Some, particularly elderly customers, felt that the language used in the booklet was too technical and that there was not always a logical progression of information. Some customers felt that a DVD alternative to the booklet would help them to learn more about how the IHD works, as the physical experience of manipulating the different buttons would be played out visually[47]. When asked what a smart meter was within the NEA/RS consulting study many customers described their IHD. Most customers were able to quote benefits to having the meters and this was most frequently reported as either more accurate billing and increased awareness of electricity use[47].

The experiences recorded within the NEA/RS consulting study highlight the importance of clear information tailored for householders. They provided insights from groups within the study; customers who already feel they are very cautious with energy use (typically elderly and low-income customers) are less likely to believe there are efficiencies which they can make; Customers with younger children and teenagers often see the IHD as a device which will help them educate their children and support their efforts to reduce waste. A similar dynamic is also observed between some couples where one is using the IHD to encourage the other to change their behaviour; Low-income alone does not necessarily drive behaviour change, as it operates in conjunction with the other factors. Similarly, whilst some higher income households are less motivated to change behaviours, others are altering their habits as they simply do not like waste;  It is evident that those customers who have not engaged with the IHD at all are not adjusting their behaviour or energy use simply because they do not have the means or impetus to do so. Customers with multiple vulnerabilities, including specifically customers who have mental health conditions, the frail elderly and customers with low literacy are those who find it most challenging[47].

The key recommendations from the report are: 1. Advanced explanation about SM and its usefulness. 2. Interactive demonstration of the IHD and subsequent information materials left by the installer must cater to the full range of learning abilities and styles. 3. Clear explanation of the traffic light system. In particular, the installer should explain that the red light will probably appear briefly as a result of temporary high-level use. Special attention should be paid to showing the customer how to switch between gas and electricity readings. 4. The IHD should include accurate account balance information, updated in response to usage to give consumers a running total of how much they are spending and how much they are on course to pay at the end of the next billing period. This should include all standing charges and other costs. 5. Consumers identified as being in vulnerable situations should receive a follow-up telephone call, and a free phone number put on the SM/IHD. 6. All demonstrations and booklets/DVDs should offer a small number of energy efficiency tips, expressed in clear, plain English. These should include information on the comparative cost of devices (for example, heating on the hob vs. microwave) and go beyond the standard advice to ‘switch off lights’ or ‘switch off devices at the plug’ which most customers already know. 7. The installer should also state explicitly that the IHD itself is not costly to run. 8. Messaging via IHDs should not be used as a sole means of communication. 9. All consumers should be made aware at the time of installation of the implications for their meter should they choose to switch supplier. 10. Suppliers should have in place a special pathway for customers in vulnerable situations, tailored to their needs in terms of accessibility and clarity. All consumers in vulnerable situations should receive follow-up[45].

NICE Guidance 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[48]. 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, the pre, during and post pathway is shown below[49].
Pre, during and post smart meter support for vulnerable customers [39]

Vulnerable groups relevant to smart metering

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], the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change members have also said they would like to see 'vulnerable' extended to reach those with language barriers[50]. In practical terms, Citizens Advice recognise that any proxy will inevitably miss groups, whereas an entirely flexible approach will fail to provide the clarity needed to identify resource requirements and target households[51]: "Dovetailing existing criteria will facilitate integration into other schemes, which is in itself necessary to the delivery of the energy saving potential of the smart meter roll-out"[51]. The related schemes identified by Citizens Advice within this document were identified as: Cold Weather Payment, Warm Homes Discount Broader group, Energy Company Obligation (ECO) and Affordable Warmth (AW) group[51].
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[45]. 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[52]. 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[45]. 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.[45]

The Early Learning Project[53] 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[45]. 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.

Segmenting the population

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 displaysCite error: Invalid <ref> tag; refs with no content must have a name

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

Within DECC's annual report on fuel poverty statistics they categorise the population by the following, which is similar to that of the English Housing Survey:

  1. Energy efficiency and dwelling characteristics
    • SAP
    • Wall type (insulated?)
    • Floor area
    • Loft insualtion
    • Dwelling age
    • Tenure
    • Gas network/main heating type
    • (+ dwelling archetype?)
  2. Household income
    • Equivalised household income
    • Working status
  3. Household characteristics
    • Household type/composition
    • Ages/ of oldest occupant
    • Household size
  4. Fuel payment type
    • Method of payment for gas
    • Method of payment for electricity[54]


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 study participants (n=40) value non-technology items within the home above all else[55]. For example, relaxation/home comforts was valued most highly by the largest portion of householders (n=12), 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 GB 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.

Social networks and diffusion of energy efficiency innovations

2013 research [56] in three British communities explored the relevance of information on energy efficiency innovations in a social system and whether it encouraged adoption of that innovation. It found that with standard campaigns two-thirds of information-seeking behaviour was satisfied. However one-third of information-seekers preferred to speak to people they knew. Discovering information on energy efficiency through social contacts was more pronounced for visual displays and insulation installation, but less so on behaviour change. Social know-how can increase the likelihood of adoption by up to four times. This suggests that community approaches to energy efficiency can reach the parts that a blanket approach cannot.

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. Designers of Consumer Access Devices may be able to receive data from smart meters to inform gadgets which could be used to inform GPs of health related data. See the regulatory section on Consumer Access Devices for more information on the legislation surrounding this. This is a controversial area as data sharing will require permission, in addition set up and run costs may be high.

Previous research 'titled 'Project Hydra' has been found on using telecare support in collaboration with Smart Meters[57]. 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 reality this may be time consuming for doctors and complex/costly to set up.

Consumer Access Devices may need to be wireless enabled using Zigbee Alliance certified wireless networking, for data protection purposes. ZigBee have already launched ZigBee Health Care certified products which aim to be inoperable and provide secure and reliable moniotring and management of 'non-critical', low-acuity healthcare services. This market is targeted for chronic disease, aging independence and general health, wellness and fitness. On the Zigbee website they state that a variety of products also offer an innovative connection with health care professionals like doctors and nurses, allowing them to monitor health whilst patients are at home[58]. This could also be used for individuals with a condition who are keen to monitor their own health, in addition to patients recovering following a hospital visit, or even in gymnasiums.

The NHS promote telecare to enable patients 'to live independently in their own homes' (using alarms and health monitoring)[59].
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