Can you imagine a situation where your grocery shopping involved you having to guess the cost of food you were buying, with an accurate bill not arriving until three months later? It may sound ludicrous and yet this is the way that the vast majority of us currently shop for our gas and electricity! Our latest Green Barometer IV research report, launched yesterday, highlighted that nearly eight out of ten Brits don’t know what they’re paying for their gas and electricity. I am not surprised – have you ever tried to read your electricity or gas meters? Normally they’re hidden away in a cupboard under the stairs, in the garage or in my case at the bottom of the food cupboard – hardly conducive for helping you to keep track of your energy usage!
Our study finds that energy bills are the most difficult for us to understand of any household bill: twice as hard as phone bills and four times as difficult as bank statements or credit card bills. This lack of transparency surrounding energy usage is one of the biggest problems holding back the UK’s fight against climate change. This is where smart meters come in. They include a portable display unit that can be taken anywhere in the house and which would allow you to monitor how much energy was being used at any time – as well as over days, weeks, or even months.
All well and good you might be thinking, but how will simply knowing energy consumption help people to save energy? Well, this is where I believe that the energy suppliers will have an important role to play. Unlike so-called clip-on displays, smart meters offer a two way communication system between the householder and the energy supplier. What does this mean? Well, it would allow the energy supplier to monitor and assess your home energy use, and then based on this they could offer tailored energy saving recommendations that were relevant to your needs and situation.
International trials, in places such as Sweden and the United States have shown smart meters offer an energy saving potential of between 5 and 10 per cent. Even, using a conservative five per cent baseline, if everyone in the UK switched to smart meters British householders could save £1.2bn a year and the equivalent of 7.4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions – figures that can’t be ignored.