UK consumers feel they are absorbing the risks and costs of smart grid adoption, while energy suppliers are reaping the awards, advisory body UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has told

Dr. Nazmiye Ozkan, senior research fellow at the University of Westminster and one of the report authors, said: “Consumers see risks of smart grids in terms of privacy of data and reliability of supply.

“From our research we also found that consumers understand how data from their meter is useful for the whole system but they want an overwrite function – they want to be in control of the data.”

A two-year study carried out by UKERC also revealed that the UK public’s “perception of the uneven distribution of costs and benefits is compounded by the widely-felt distrust towards the industry, both of which must be overcome if they are not to act as a hindrance to smart grid development”.

Dr. Ozkan said: “Utilities need to help consumers look beyond energy and make them understand that if they’re willing to share data, they will get something in return.”

Dr Ozkan suggests three approaches that utilities could use.

The financial method where utilities educate consumers on how their bills will reduce with different tariff options; the big-picture approach where customers understand exactly how their data is used; and emphasising an integrated service that is beneficial to daily life such as energy, transport and healthcare.

Consumer engagement
The study also found that in communities where a utility had begun engaging with consumers, either through a pilot wind turbine project or TV screen to monitor energy efficiency, “there was not so much distrust”, said Dr Ozkan.

Evidence from the US also supports the need for utilities to engage with communities. Where representatives had explained the benefits of a smart grid to a group of householders, those consumers were more receptive to sharing data, said Dr Ozkan.

Managing uncertainty
UKERC conducted the study ‘Scenarios for the Development of Smart Grids in the UK’ to develop four different alternative futures.

Dr Ozkan said: “The UK has ambitious smart climate goals and with that comes great opportunities but also uncertainties – how will society react, how will technology change.

“The aim of the study was to plan for alternative futures to guide government on future smart grid policy.

“We created four different scenarios, from Minimum Smart that assumes weak consumer acceptance, up to Smart 2050 driven by strong policy and strong engagement.”

The majority of the public surveyed opted for Groundswell which sees consumers buying in to microgeneration schemes.

Dr Ozkan said: “Groundswell was the most favourable scenario. Consumers liked the idea of producing their own energy and reducing their bills.”

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