The PSI Blog


New paper: smart meters, community action and communications
Kevin Burchell


Kevin Burchell

Providing feedback to householders about their energy usage through energy monitors – aka, in-home displays (IHDs) or smart meters – is an important demand reduction strategy in a number of countries. In the UK, a five-year nationwide roll-out of smart meters with IHDs has begun at a cost of £11-12 billion. The reasoning is simple: energy consumption feedback provides information that householders will use to reduce their energy consumption.

If only life were so simple. Research shows considerable variation in effectiveness of energy consumption feedback as a route to consumption reduction; the UK government’s risk assessment is based on two to three per cent reductions. So, what’s the problem? People vary in how much they are motivated by energy, data, technology and management. Some studies suggest that engagement is often limited to one individual in a household – some report this is mostly men – and that trying to implement energy reduction can lead to household conflict. Moreover, for many users, the information provided by IHDs doesn’t mean much – energy is invisible and the units presented on the display are confusing. In the longer term, householders often quickly lose interest and engagement fades. In some cases, IHDs seem to merely reinforce the sense that little can be changed.

The Smart Communities project – which I worked on from 2011 to 2013 with Ruth Rettie and Tom Roberts at Kingston University – offered energy consumption feedback alongside weekly action-oriented emails and a range of community action activities. Project findings suggest that, although by no means panaceas, approaches such as these can support long-term engagement with energy consumption feedback, including by women, and can support behaviour change.

Further information is available in the full paper (FREE until 17 December 2015), which was published last week:

Kevin Burchell, Ruth Rettie, Tom C. Roberts. 2016. Householder engagement with energy consumption feedback: the role of community action and communications, Energy Policy,88:78–186.

Other papers and reports from Smart Communities:

» All PSI blog posts