Taking control of your energy consumption

Friday, December 5, 2014
The Smart Meter Challenge gave participants control over their energy use and more money in their pocket.  Participants in the Smart Meter Challenge were using 6% less gas and 7% less electricity than similar homes without smart meters. Photograph: Andrew Lord

Smart meters make sense. They save money, time and energy. That’s the conclusion from Britain’s first-ever Smart Meter Challenge – an independent study into how smart meters can change people’s behaviour and attitudes towards energy consumption.

The study, conducted by research agency The Futures Company, using British Gas smart meter technology, set 14 households a number of challenges over a 10-week period. At the end of the trial they then reported on what changes had stuck.

As TVs were switched off standby and gadgets unplugged, bills came down. Participants were using 6% less gas and 7% less electricity than similar homes without smart meters. According to British Gas, if they continue this behaviour they’ll save an average of £66 on their annual energy bill.

The study found that the installation of smart meters and a smart energy monitor affected households’ behaviour. Once participants could see their energy use it was easier to make small changes, which then became part of everyday life.

Changing perceptions
Before the challenge, energy was seen as invisible and technical. “My meter was somewhere in the cupboard,” says challenge participant Dariusz Bogal. 

“I simply did the reading and paid the direct debit every month.” But now, participants can see and engage with their energy use. Stella Constantine, from London, says: “Before I got the smart energy monitor I had no idea why I was paying so much. Now I can see where it’s going. It’s clearer and fairer.”

Taking control
Many of the participants felt that they didn’t have much control over their energy use and they’d need to make big lifestyle changes to reduce consumption. “I’ve used energy-saving light bulbs before, but there’s not much else I can do,” said Katie Dransfield before she started the challenge. 

But small changes can make a huge difference – as Andy Wood found out. “By adjusting the temperature of the water by a few degrees, we’re saving energy,” he said. “And because it’s a one‑off, we can forget about it.” 

Before the challenge only one of 14 households felt in control of their gas and electricity use; by the end, 12 out of 14 felt in control.

Everyday energy
Prior to the challenge, households felt managing energy was old-fashioned and stressful. But after the challenge, keeping a track of energy use is part of the household routine: simple and user-friendly. 

As Daniel and Carly Welsh explained: “We don’t have to give readings anymore and never have to have an engineer turn up unexpected, which makes it so much easier for us.”