The national rollout of smart energy meter systems will give power back to consumers while helping to create a sustainable energy future - but only if the technology is adopted enthusiastically.
Paul Rafis explains why we need to promote a culture of proactivity to make the smart meter project successful.
The fight for energy sustainability is being fought along various national and international fronts, but the dusty cupboard underneath your stairs has not featured in this energy debate, until now.
The ancient gas and electricity meters which have lived silently underneath stairs and in cobwebbed basements, will soon be updated under ambitious government plans. But the energy saving potential of new smart meters will depend on how actively consumers monitor and manage their energy consumption.
As part of their policy to secure a more sustainable energy future, the UK government is urging energy providers to install 50 million gas and electricity meters in 27 million homes by 2020.
The potential of smart meters to reduce energy consumption is huge. Advocates claim the technology will empower customers to get a grip on their energy consumption and slim their energy bills down to size.
The idea is that more accurate meters, coupled with real time in-home displays as well as more elaborate online monitoring platforms, will give people to capacity to manage their usage patterns effectively.
Previously, ex post facto estimated bills represented the only consumption data available to consumers. Now, for the first time, smart meters will allow businesses and households to make more informed decisions, based on accurate and real-time cost information.
Estimates of potential annual savings for households vary, but many commentators expect cost savings of around 2/3%. For businesses the potential savings are sharper. A report from the carbon trust found that advanced metering systems have helped SMEs implement savings of 5%.
These estimates, however, are misleading because they report an estimate for the ‘average’ household. Smart meters, like so many other things, will give back what you put in.
This means that, if customers do not learn how to use the available data to monitor their energy consumption and identify potential cost-saving areas, then they are unlikely to generate savings.
On the other hand, consumers who use the data effectively will be able to see where they are using the most energy and should be able to modify their behaviour so as to generate more energy and cost savings.
If smart meters are to be successful then consumers need to be educated on how to use smart meter data to better manage their energy consumption. The government and energy saving trusts should work harder at educating households while clearly spelling out the incentives to save.
For businesses, particularly those who use large amounts of gas and electricity, it is recommended that they supplement their smart meter with professional gas reporting and auditing services.
This kind of professional help has, in my experience, allowed businesses to generate huge savings on their gas and electricity bills.
Paul Rafis is the managing director of Business Gas.com, a leading independent gas broker which specialises in helping businesses to manage their gas consumption more effectively with the use of smart gas meters and online monitoring platforms.