The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Simon Anderson, Director at Green Energy Options.

Earlier this summer, Commissioner Cañete outlined his vision of the “21st Century energy consumer” and confirmed the EU’s commitment to a new flexible, clean energy system that provides sustainable and affordable energy. Smart meter programmes should be at the centre of this plan and designed to empower consumers. To date, across the globe this has not been the case but two places to look at where it is being done are Australia and the UK.

Putting the consumer first

Australia has introduced a “market led” programme following “The Power of Choice” review which assessed the lessons from the Victoria rollout and the consumer backlash. It recommended that meters should be provided as part of an energy service to consumers by any registered operator, not just the Distribution Businesses, the equivalent of DSOs. This is taking shape, particularly in New South Wales where their original gross metering solar feed-in tariff ends in December, and has spawned a minor revolution in how energy services are being promoted to end-users. It is the right sort of competition.

The UK has put consumers at the heart of its programme and energy management at the heart of the home. Energy is not out of sight, or mind, and every UK resident can see their energy use data in different formats – via an energy display, energy apps, web portals – and get live access to gas and electricity meter data. This is significant, as live data has the potential to automate other energy devices.

These programmes are different but they both put the consumer first.

Making Energy Visible

Our mission at Green Energy Options (geo) is to make energy smarter for domestic consumers. Ten years ago we started developing and trialling our first energy feedback and control systems, and a key challenge was to understand how we could present this information in an easily understandable format, so we built very simple, cost-effective monitoring (IHD) devices.

One of our earliest innovations was a speedometer-style display, which shows how much energy is being used. One customer used this to realise that the flickering light on their oven was not a faulty light but a faulty oven that was switching on and off constantly! So, monitoring devices can deliver value simply by making energy visible. A 2014 BEAMA report showed that average savings from IHDs are twice that from other feedback measures (8.99% v 4.88%)[1].

We use similar displays to monitor solar to show people when they have “free electricity” – and as important, when they don’t and are paying for their electricity. Local access to data is vital for this service and is part of the Australian solution where the meter is an integral part of the service.

We are also trialling mobile apps and are finding that the two devices complement each other. Apps are great for notifications – that little red circle in the corner of the app icon – we use this facility to warn users when something needs their attention. We first learn the user’s normal consumption profile and then alert them when something is different or there may be an opportunity to save money.

Apps are not good at commanding routine attention whereas, an IHD can engage the whole family and is useful for at glance situations such as when leaving the home. It’s a bit like a clock on the wall – oh is that the time? In this case it’s – why is my house going so fast – what have I left on?

So, an IHD is for non-specific alerts – we don’t know when people are leaving home, or going to bed etc – whereas Apps are for more structured alerts such as when you have used 10% more than your budget or have one day’s usage left on your pre-payment account.

Energy Efficiency Starts At Home

We have observed that users go through a sequence: understand, control, automate. First they need to understand energy in the round, which energy feedback is great at. Then they want to control their energy usage using smart plugs or similar. But then they want the problem taken away through automation – which is the revolution.

In this way both smart meter programmes lay the foundation for the next stage of the energy management revolution. When the data collected by smart meters can be used to control and automate energy in the home, we’ll really start to reap the benefits of this smart technology.

Project forward to 2025. Homes may continue to be like cars were 10 years ago with little or no energy efficiency technology in them – or they may be more like the hybrid car of today. Given how important it is to have a dashboard in a hybrid car, most people would not want their home controlling things in the background without their knowledge: feedback will be essential. So don’t just think of displays in terms of yesterday’s paradigm – look to the future where displays will be central to the user experience and crucial in a modern hybrid home.

In conclusion

So what can other countries in Europe learn from these two examples? Three things:

  • Putting consumers at the heart of the programme is right and enables many more benefits. This should mean breaking the monopoly on DSO’s owning meters.
  • Incorporating a live data port on all smart meters is essential for enabling the smart energy element of a smart home
  • Live energy feedback is the starting point in empowering consumers.

[1] Assessing the Use and Value of Energy Monitors in Great Britain, BEAMA 3rd April 2014

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