During the past years the interest in SMART technology (e.g. SMART meters, SMART grids, SMART phones …) has vastly grown. The following question has become more and more relevant: how SMART devices can help individual households to save energy. Worldwide studies have been set up to explore how consumers can be empowered to optimize their consumption through SMART meters.
In what follows we will present the key findings of the international VaasaETT study and of an energy efficiency study conducted by Trilations – a study which is part of the SMART meter proof of concept of Eandis and Infrax and that covers 4750 households in Flanders.
VaasaETT, a Global Energy Think Tank, performed a study called “Empower Demand II” on how to best empower consumers to reduce consumption through the combination of communication and technology.
This study contained two distinct stages: “Consumer Engagement Analysis” and “The Next Best Practice”. Here we focus on the findings of the first stage, in which nine “smart meter based energy efficiency related” programs were analyzed in detail. In all, over 160.000 households participated in these nine studies. In addition, other international programs were considered in lesser detail.
Based on this broad analysis, VaasaETT concluded that feedback and control, when done well, will in the future lead to average energy consumption savings far above those typically experienced. However, this increase in average consumption savings can only be realized through the creation of intelligent customer ecosystems that combine appropriately communication and technology.
When integrated in a holistic approach the following 8 success factors can improve future savings tremendously.
- Pre-offering education from an independent source: Whether justified or not, a large proportion of utility consumers are suspicious of utility companies when those promise to give the customer savings or benefits for free. Therefore, the initial message -proclaiming initiatives to save energy and money- should come from communication sources that the consumer associates none negatively. A source that they feel is independent, ideally on their side and/or the side of the environment, but at least not on the side of the utility companies.
- Step by step discovery: People like to explore, they like to discover, in general more than they like to study or to be taught. If we are to obtain the interest and involvement of consumers, consumers must be able to learn at their own pace, in their own way, to their own desired extent.
- Mixed feedback: Multiple feedback channels work best. While ‘in home displays’ are typically the most effective form of feedback, ‘leaflets’ – done well – can in some cases prove to be even more effective. Furthermore, different consumers will prefer different channels; be they paper based, electronically by computer, phone or tablet, through a home display or some other means. Nor should it be forgotten that different feedback channels have a different purpose.
- Appealing devices: Based on research findings, it is estimated that those programmes researched for this report would have been more successful had they applied more aesthetic, ergonomic, simple, ambient, intuitive devices.
- Empathy and trust: Customers need to know, through the demonstration of the utility’s behaviour and or promises and guarantees that the utility is trying to help the customer rather than just themselves. Customers need to be convinced that their participation will provide them opportunities to save money, or even earn money, with minimal inconvenience.
- Effective motivation: Invitation letters are an important part of the motivation process, but so are drip-feed communications (communicating to consumers in manageable bites), consumer experiences relating to: insights into tangible improvements; demonstrations of the value of smart meter data; and various other means such as goal-setting and competitions.
Ultimately it is, however, the interplay of price and cost incentive with information (including education and feedback) that drives customer involvement and energy efficiency behavior. Both sets of drivers are of equal importance and interdependent.
- The Inter-play of Automation, Self-Control and Experimentation: consumers do not seem to be opposed to automation per se. What consumers want, however, is to not be controlled without their permission or without their ability to opt out.
It is also important that consumers understand, through manual involvement, the relationship between their consumption behavior and the consequences for themselves and the environment, before they are provided with automation.
- Partnership: Feedback and control technologies through energy efficiency and demand response are essential elements of the process of creating partnership between the utility and the consumer.
Proof Of Concept study – Eandis&Infrax
Since February 2011, approximately 4750 Flemish households with a SMART meter receive frequent feedback on their energy consumption (expressed in kWh) through a closed feedback loop. This loop uses different communication channels: a monthly newsletter, if preferred a weekly newsletter and unlimited access to a portal containing all info on the energy usage. In addition all families received a magazine on rational energy use (REG) each month.
To determine the effect of the SMART meter in combination with the feedback loop, the energy efficiency of this SMART group was directly compared to a group of Flemish households that did not receive detailed information on their energy consumption. The latter group only received monthly REG communication. Aside from testing the effectiveness of SMART meter implementation, the study further focused on how the extensive communication can play a role in improving the energy efficiency of the households (e.g. content, frequency, channel …).
The key findings of the study can be summarized as follows:
- SMART meters in combination with the closed feedback loop result in a more efficient use of electricity. The average savings per household improved by 4.5% (from +/- 1.5% to 6%) when they received detailed information on their energy consumption.
- Generalized to the Flemish population, this means an average gain of 2,6% on electricity consumption.
- Communication plays a crucial role in empowering the households to become more energy efficient. Households that consult their personal information more frequently (weekly newsletter, web-portal) tend to save more. Providing balanced information is key. More positive feedback results in higher savings, whereas too much negative information can possibly demotivate to undertake the necessary efforts.
In line with the VaasaETT, the POC study clearly shows that effective communication is one of the main success factors to optimize energy efficiency with SMART meters. Thus, the POC study confirms the positive impact of continuous personal interaction with the customer. The potential gain in savings corresponds with those observed in the low impact pilots of the VaasaETT study. Both studies underline the importance of psychological aspects of the communication to sustainably motivate consumers (balanced information, positive messages) to reduce their energy consumption.
Above findings of the POC study are confirmed by findings of the Vaasa ETT “Empower Demand II” study. This leads us to believe there is clearly a large potential to further improve energy efficiency in Flanders by combining SMART technology with effective communication.
If you would like to obtain more information regarding this article don’t hesitate to contact Frank Sels via firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Alex Curtoud
The Vaasa ETT “Empower Demand II” study can be downloaded by following this link: http://www.esmig.eu/filestor/Final_Empower%202_Demand_Report_FINAL_Distr2.pdf/view
The energy efficiency study as part of the SMART meter POC of Eandis & Infrax can be downloaded on following page: http://www.infrax.be/nl/over-infrax/energiesector/project-slimme-meters