Smart energy meters won’t automatically help consumers save money on their energy bills, says a new study. So why doesn’t being told how much energy we’re wasting inspire us to turn off a few more electrical gadgets?
Oxford University boffins have found that installing a smart meter (which automatically measures energy use and sends it to your energy supplier) won’t save you money. You’ll only benefit if the smart meter comes with a real-time energy display – even then it’ll be hard to keep up the savings.
No long-term benefit
This isn’t the first study to arrive at such a conclusion. Academics in the Netherlands recently found that electricity use by energy monitor users dropped by 7.8% in the first four months. Yet in the medium to long term those with a monitor did not manage to sustain their electricity savings any better than those without one.
But I didn’t really need to see either of these studies to awaken my own scepticism about energy monitors and smart meters. I’ve already found the novelty of checking up-to-the-minute electricity use does indeed soon wear off.
When my parents got a free energy monitor from their supplier recently, we all spent a good hour or so marvelling at how turning on a hairdryer, kettle or TV caused the numbers on the display to shoot up. But a couple of months on and the energy monitor sits lonely and ignored on the kitchen windowsill.
Effort or apathy?
Cutting energy use requires sustained effort, and all too often it seems impossible to keep ‘checking the energy monitor’ at the top of your priorities when you get into the shower or reboil the kettle.
Objectively, I can see that energy monitors and smart meters with real-time energy displays are a hugely positive step towards giving us all greater control over our energy bills. But perhaps the old adage ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’ rings true.
Even with the financial incentive of cheaper electricity bills, it seems we have a long way to go before we’re all as sparing with electricity as with cold hard cash. Or maybe it’s just that my family is particularly lazy?
After all, it wasn’t so long ago we were all ambivalent about supermarket plastic bags – but now no trip to the supermarket is complete without taking (or forgetting?) a bag for life. So will energy monitors trigger a similar new age of eco awareness? Or are they destined to be yet another flash-in-the-pan gadget that soon gets relegated to the kitchen drawer?