Having got a smart meter at home I am convinced that smart meters alone will not deliver significant energy savings in the domestic/residential sector. The smart meter is a ‘tool’ and it needs a ‘crafts-person’ to use it.

On Friday  31 March I was schedule for a smart meter upgrade. The guy came to install and did a great job on the electricity meter – really impressed with how he worked. As for the gas, owing to the type of meter and its location a non-standard installation called for parts he did not have on the van – so a job for another day. That other day turned out to be Friday 5th May.

Meter installation complete I was then introduced to my In Home Display unit (IHD) with a 3 minute demo by the technician. This might have been longer if I had asked questions, but given my background I was happy with what I got. The IHD is a phone sized device that is mains powered with battery back-up, monochrome with some small LEDs. This comes with and 23 page, A6 handbook and a 27-page A5 guide. Now, this is where its gets interesting. I am an expert in energy management and my initial thought was I need to set some time aside to look at these. The first barrier to implementing savings.

Later on, I settled down with a nice cup of coffee, the books and the IHD. I now know all that it does except for one aspect that I am still working out!

So, where are my promised energy savings?

Arguably, if I do nothing and carry on as before I will increase my annual bill by about 20p – the cost of running the IHD. My second booklet does have energy saving advice – if I say the same as what you would expect for domestic energy saving – nothing wrong with that. But I could have implemented those ideas without the smart meter.

Currently, I have 6 days of data – so no real patterns yet but I have set a daily consumption target. The initial target is based on what I think an average day will be. Of course, I could set it average minus 5% to encourage me to save. But, if I were Jo Public what would I set it at?

I then started thinking is a daily target what I need? Perhaps I need a weekly target, or a monthly target but no option for those.

On the positive side, my utility company has not asked for this month’s electricity reading – a clear and obvious benefit. At the end on the next month I will compare my usage with the last dumb meter bill and I guess that will be my check that the meter is working correctly. I note there have been recent postings about the accuracy/reliability of smart meters, but I will just do this sense check at this stage.

As an energy professional I was keen to get ‘smart metered’, the actual meter is in and functioning and that is good. To be honest the display unit is a little disappointing, but what I have realised having the technology in home, as opposed to thinking about it in the abstract, is there only one thing that a smart meter will deliver without a smart person using it and that is more frequent and reliable meter readings.

If we are going to realise energy savings through domestic smart metering we really need to think about the user. We also need to think more about the human machine interface (HMI). Should the IHD be offered as an additional phone or tablet app, should it be possible to upload data to your PC? I am aware that these some of these options are already in the market place, but it looks like the IHD you are offered is linked to your metering provider – i.e. you get what they offer, no options. So, should there be options for the energy user to ‘upgrade’ the IHD? Perhaps this will be an option in a more mature market.

According to Smart Meter GB there will be 53 million smart meters installed in 30 million premises (domestic and business) by 2020 when the roll out is complete.

To date around 5 million meters have been installed. So less than 10% market penetration.

My conclusion is that the anticipated energy savings from smart metering are probably overstated. Sure, smart meters will lead to less estimated bills and hopefully more accurate billing.

The only way smart meters will deliver energy savings is if they are used by energy smart people.

The challenge is making ordinary people, energy smart people.

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this posting please share it with others.

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