Make smart metering about the consumer

By Paul Eggleton, Head of Energy & Sustainability Solutions (Machine-to-Machine), Telefonica

A comment stuck out for me at this week’s Westminster Energy Environment & Transport Forum on smart metering: “The UK Government is approaching smart metering as a consumer engagement tool, most other countries are approaching it as an energy network management tool”. For me this is a critical difference and marks an approach in the UK which could become the global benchmark for successful smart meter deployments.

There’s no doubt that the UK’s Smart Meter Implementation Programme is a giant infrastructure programme with the government taking a very hands-on approach. It will see 20,000 meters being installed per day, with 53 million in place across the country by the end of 2019. Chris Shelley at BEAMA called it “the most ambitious and well structured roll out programme in the world”. According to Jacqui Russell, Head of the Smart Meter Roll Out Team at DECC, “the programme will deliver a net benefit to the UK of £6.7bn“.

Much of this benefit will be down to operational efficiencies gained through updating ageing infrastructure and providing the industry with the information necessary to transform the distribution of energy on the grid. But an equally significant proportion of the benefits will derive from changing the way consumers engage with energy consumption.

Eon has been an early mover in trialing smart meters and currently has approximately 200,000 installed in the UK. Jean Fiddes, Head of Smart Transistion at Eon told the Forum that there was one clear lesson from the trial – “our smart meter customers like us”. In a sector plagued by consumer distrust, Eon has been able to use smart meters to re-set the relationship they have with these customers and make it far more positive.

Initially this will come from giving customers the right visibility of their energy usage and helping them to modify their usage. Smart meters will also open the door to new innovative energy pricing models, giving customers more control over how they consume energy.

In the longer term, we think smart meters can become a gateway to a whole range of connected services in the smart home. And consumer research we’ve commissioned shows that this is what really excites people about smart meters.

Clearly if smart metering is about consumer engagement then we must bring consumers on the journey with us. Our research also shows that at the moment too many people (63%) don’t know what a smart meter is. When the concept is explained, 64% felt it would change their energy behaviour although there are also concerns around data privacy and the installation process. DECC’s guidelines ban sales during the installation process and our survey showed that when this was explained, 40% of people were most likely to adopt a smart meter.

Consumer education will be critical to the success of the UK’s smart metering programme and the good news from Energy UK at the Forum is that the Central Delivery Body, which will lead on this, is on track to be in place during this summer.

The UK is right to place the emphasis on consumer engagement and although big and complex, there’s every chance that this smart meter deployment will become the case study for other countries to follow.


Read our latest consumer research here