Diagram from greentechmedia.com

The European Commission has acted on research which raised concerns about the benefits to consumers of smart metering by asking EU members to submit cost/ benefit analyses of a roll-out in their respective states.

In the UK, we’re already committed to metering, so we decided to put a call out on Twitter to see whether people think they’re going to be a big hit, or indeed a bit of waste of time, money and effort. The response was, as you might imagine, mixed. A few samples:

“Smart meters will only be successful in reducing consumption if the end users engage with the notion of saving energy.”

“…And that doesn’t require a smart meter. It’s so obvious it’s almost painful but not to some people it seems.”

“Someone will have to foot the bill and shareholders won’t, but on I think it will help for the next type of metering.”

“If it means my supplier stops ignoring the meter readings I send and gives me accurate bills, I’m all for it.”

“Smart meters will benefit suppliers/producers, but if the consumer doesn’t monitor & reduce consumption, then no change!”

So the basic thrust, mirroring European concerns, is that people are worried a smart meter roll-out will be more of a boon for energy companies than the people using and paying for it.

We have always been supportive of the idea of smart meters – but we also take the view that they’re just another home gadget more or less collecting dust if they’re not a catalyst for wide-ranging behaviour change. From a solely financial perspective, more accurate billing is great, but if those bills stay as whopping as they’ve ever been, it’s not exactly going to ease people’s worries. From a carbon emissions perspective, quite simply for the investment that’s going into a national roll-out, they have to deliver sizeable cuts.

The fact that we have to change, not just our energy infrastructure, is no secret.  We’ve seen from our recent reports like Powering the Nation and The Elephant in the Living Room, the huge impact that increases in appliances and gadgets, and the way we use them, has on carbon emissions and bills.

For this shift in our behaviours that’s needed to happen, this great opportunity for face-to-face engagement with people in their homes needs to be capitalised on with up-front advice setting out clearly the premise that it’s your smartness that makes a smart meter smart.

And that’s not all – there needs to be solid sources of advice for people to tap into where they need it. We and a few others, old and new, are doing our best to provide this service now, but to avoid smart meters being a multi-billion pound flop, smart meters need to be the start of an en energy-efficiency journey, with help along the way, not a one-way trip into a household cupboard.