Smart Meters and Energy Behaviours – technology and people

Smart Meters and Energy Behaviours – Technology and People.

In November 2015, about 40 people gathered at ODI in Leeds for a SmartKlub conversation with a difference – this one was part of a live research project:  a collaboration between the sustainability Research Institute at University of Leeds and the City Council.  We had tech entrepreneurs, energy entrepreneurs, energy professionals and policymakers all represented – a rich and heady mixture of perspectives!

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The British Academy-funded research project is running until the end of 2016 and sits alongside exciting developments in Leeds – and now across Yorkshire – to link a special local tariff with “smart meter” installation and a package of measures to help people who take up the tariff reduce their energy bills.   The research is collecting viewpoints from the private sector, from public sector housing officials, and from social housing tenants to understand how different people connect “energy behaviours”, costs and benefits.  We can then design measures that go with the grain of those viewpoints and ensure that support for behaviour change is as effective as possible.

The morning started with some presentations from the research team about the range of factors that were driving smart meter implementation, and also, importantly, how not all energy behaviours are equal.  Sally Russell explained the difference between “curtailment” behaviours – behaviours which we undertake every day such washing clothes at 40 °C or putting a lid on a pan of boiling water – and “efficiency” behaviours.  Efficiency behaviours require some kind of one-off action or investment – like installing insulation – and then they have an effect on energy consumption every day.

From the SmartKlub workshop, participants identified a range of curtailment and efficiency behaviours as areas for opportunity that could be tackled through using smart meter data. Our private sector participants saw real value in smart meter data helping target those households who stood to benefit most from support to help them access new technologies, appliances or simply change their habits in order to reduce energy bills.

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But the commercial story for smart metering and energy behaviours is complex.  There is no overall coherent view on winners and losers, which means that a market-led approach is unlikely to be effective.  There is a disconnection between where collective costs are and individual benefits are accrued making a private sector “business case” difficult and perhaps suggesting the need for and role of regulation if the public sector is unable to bridge the gap.

Workshop participants identified a strong case for reducing energy consumption (and costs) on social grounds even more than environmental grounds, even though energy is often considered an environmental issue.  However, the workshop also highlighted that there is little connection between financial beneficiaries (or cost payers) and social beneficiaries.  Why should energy companies pay the price for improved health and well being?

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The researcher’s next steps are to test the acceptability of some of the ideas with the potential new customers for the local energy tariff, particularly social housing tenants.

SmartKlub generated a rich set of conversations and ideas which can now feed directly into policy making.  SmartKlub provides a unique way to connect people and business ideas in Leeds.

 

Alice Owen, Sally Russell, Rici Marshall – University of Leeds, Sustainability Research Institute

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