Britain’s smart meter and demand research project on track


London, U.K. — (METERING.COM) — March 24, 2010 – Britain’s Energy Demand Research Project (EDRP), which is seeking to better understand how consumers react to improved information about their energy consumption, is generally progressing as planned with the numbers of households involved in the trials and using smart meters close to the target numbers set at the start of the trial.

According to the EDRP’s fourth progress report, covering the period from March to September 2009, in September there were over 58,000 households taking part in the trials across Great Britain and a further 16,000 households included in control groups. Of these over 17,000 households have had smart meters installed as part of the trial, many with both gas and electricity smart meters, while more than 13,000 households are taking part in some form of billing trial, nearly 26,000 are receiving energy efficiency information, and around 8,000 have been given clip-on energy monitors with visual display units (VDUs).

The project, which is comprised of 26 trial groups across Great Britain – some of which are further divided into subgroups based on, for example, consumption level or type of meter – is designed to measure how consumers respond to the interventions over the long term. Some households are receiving more than one intervention, for example, some are receiving both historical bills and energy efficiency advice.

As the trials are still on-going and data is still being collected and analyzed, it is too early to reach any conclusions on how individual interventions, or combinations of interventions, have influenced energy consumption long term, the report says.

However, some emerging trends and themes can be identified. Among these are the importance of more frequent and accurate billing and the core benefit in any package of measures of the smart meter. The survey results suggest that changes to the way in which customers are billed are noticed by the majority, and monthly billing was particularly welcomed, but a key question is whether or not these interventions actually result in changes that produce energy savings. Further, as the smart meter doesn’t necessarily interact with the consumer in that household, the installation of smart metering alone and with a range of other interventions that give information on consumption directly to the householder is being trialed.

The trials are also investigating different forms of real-time feedback to consumers, including in-home VDUs that are linked to either clip-on monitors or to smart meters. One of the trials involves a visual display that includes an alarm if daily cumulative electricity consumption goes over a set threshold, while another investigates the impact of an energy feedback display that is incorporated into the household’s heating thermostat/controller. Customer feedback on VDUs includes a dislike of alarms that sound too frequently, a welcome for a distinctive “traffic light” indicator on displays, and preference for energy use to be expressed in money rather than in kilowatt-hours. However, it is clear that different individuals prefer different features.

Those trials that have sent households information and tips about how to save energy at home, and no other intervention, have yet to identify any subsequent changes in the mean energy consumption of the households in the trial groups. There are two potential reasons for this, either that the information provided may not have been read or may not have been communicated clearly, or that information about energy efficiency may not be enough in itself to trigger energy saving, and further analysis should be conducted on this topic.

One trial combines energy saving tips with a financial incentive to reduce energy consumption. The effect of this incentive was immediate and dramatic with a pronounced fall in the electricity consumption of the group receiving the intervention. However, once the households had received their reward, their energy savings began to decline and were entirely gone around seven months later. While it would appear that the financial incentive was the primary driver of change, it is not yet clear whether the energy saving tips helped the customers to reduce their consumption, or whether they acted on knowledge that they had already obtained from other sources, and again further analysis is required.
The trials are overseen by the regulator Ofgem, and are being conducted by four suppliers, EDF Energy Customers, E.ON UK, SSE Energy Supply Limited, and Scottish Power Energy Retail Limited.

Final reporting on the trials is expected in late quarter 3 or early quarter 4 this year.