With the Public Accounts Committee reporting that the fitting of smart meters will only see a modest reduction in Energy usage, is that the full story or will the installation of Smart Meters be a catalyst for change?
While the overhead of the cost of smart meters is unavoidable, the figure of £11 per year to pay for the meter is fairly modest, amounting to under 1% of the typical average annual bill.
The real issue will be consumers’ ability to alter their consumption, either through deliberate behaviour changes or through improved technology. To change their behaviour, people need to understand the new tariffs, and also how to interpret the meters or any other device such as a PC or a mobile that may be picking up the data. There is a real risk that the people who are most at risk of fuel poverty, such as the elderly, will also be the ones most at risk of “information poverty” when it comes to understanding the system.
And even if people do understand the effects of the tariffs, how many of us are actually going to get up at 2 a.m. so that we can set the washing machine running on the lowest tariff? We need devices with a degree of intelligence that at least enable them to kick in at the most economical time, or reduce consumption at peak times (e.g. for a deep freeze). The market for smart appliances in the UK has so far been slower to take off than many people expected. For many of us it hasn’t got beyond jokes about fridges going berserk and ordering hundreds of gallons of milk. Smart metering could catapult smart appliances from being the toys of your above average affluent geek into being the must-have devices of ordinary families, as is already happening for smart phones, and this represents a huge opportunity for appliance manufacturers.
Beyond all this, perhaps the biggest change is that most consumers will become much more aware of the energy that they are using on a day to day basis, and that they will adjust their behaviour almost by instinct, much as we currently adjust our step to avoid a puddle or an open manhole.
People tend not to spend much time worrying about hypotheticals. However when a big change like this starts to happen, and the costs and benefits of metering translate into cold hard cash, there is almost bound to be an immediate and loud reaction, especially from those who see their bills going up. There is a huge amount of preparatory work still to be done.