European consumers not adequately safeguarded in smart meter discussions


Brussels, Belgium — (METERING.COM) — June 26, 2012 – Consumers are not being adequately safeguarded in the current discussions on smart metering in Europe, according to a recent report from the European consumer organization BEUC (Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs).

The report, Empowering consumers through smart metering, which was written by Frédéric Klopfert and Grégoire Wallenborn of the Université Libre de Bruxelles, states that the battle over smart meters mainly concerns the technical and economic feasibility of private interests. This is nothing historically new in the development of technology. However, the case of smart meters is special because of a split incentive problem, which could result in consumers paying for equipment and services they do not need. Thus the smart meter solution should be flexible in order to avoid lock-ins and to open future possibilities.

The report goes on to analyze six European smart meter studies (the four Energy Demand Response Project trials in the U.K., the CER’s study in Ireland and the Intelliekon study in Germany) and concludes that actual energy savings average between 2-4 percent in the best cases where consumers have clearly opted for their use. This “unexpectedly low result” can be explained by way of the diversity of consumers and the notion of “appropriation.”

Smart meters will only become so when consumers use them smartly, says the report, continuing that this implies they should actively participate in the creation and definition of functionalities, usages and meanings before techno-economical drivers decide and standardize the new objects.

Further, the deployment of modular smart meters should be progressive in accordance with the rhythm of demand. To avoid technological lock-in, consumers and meters, together with uses and meanings, have to evolve in cooperation. The modularity of the meters should enable progressive development of the functions and the uses. Consumers should be able to opt-in to different versions of meters, choosing (and paying for) the service they want.

The different agendas and approaches of consumers also contrast with the centralized model of electricity production and collection of personal data. Thus, it is suggested that smart data and the use of it is developed similar to the model of the “open source” movement. Consumers must have access to their own consumption data, past and present, for free and the transfer of their data to other parties must require consumer consent.