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09 Jul 2018

New research reveals importance of additional support in engaging vulnerable consumers in smart metering

New research reveals importance of additional support in engaging vulnerable consumers in smart metering

New research has demonstrated that smart meters can benefit vulnerable and low-income households – but in most cases this requires additional support and advice.

Smart meters are the next generation of energy meters, able to provide information on energy usage directly to suppliers, leading to an end to estimated billing as well as providing the opportunity for consumers to have greater understanding of their energy usage and change their energy-related behaviours. The EU aims to replace at least 80% of electricity meters with smart meters by 2020 wherever it is cost-effective to do so, which along with the rollout of smart grids could reduce emissions in the EU by up to 9% and annual household energy consumption by similar amounts[1].

At the same time there is growing recognition at EU and Member State level of the issue of energy poverty, that is the inability to access adequate energy to heat, cool and power the home. While smart metering has the potential to reduce energy poverty by improving energy efficiency and reducing household energy bills, previous studies have shown that smart meters in themselves do not automatically lead to energy savings in the residential sector without additional support, advice, and feedback mechanisms such as accompanying in home displays.

This study, which was conducted as part of SMART-UP – a three-year project funded through the EU’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme –ran across France, Italy, Spain, Malta and the UK. It examined the impact that training frontline workers to enable them to provide energy-related advice and support to vulnerable consumers with smart meters had on the extent to which these consumers then interacted with their meters, changed their behaviour and reduced their energy consumption.

In total, 530 frontline workers were trained and provided face-to-face advice to 4,463 vulnerable households, reaching an estimated 13,000 consumers in total. Of these, 322 households were also provided with additional support such as follow-up phone calls, aftercare service and access to technologies that provided information and feedback on their energy use. Quantitative data was combined with interviews with stakeholders and the experiences of the project delivery staff to generate a range of insights.

The project was successful in reaching vulnerable consumers and instigating some level of energy-related behaviour change, with 80% of participants taking action to reduce the amount of energy they use, and 65% using their in home display or app/feedback device more often. It also highlighted the importance of making it as easy as possible for consumers to access and understand their energy consumption, both in terms of ensuring that the meter itself is situated in an accessible location; and ensuring that they also have access to easy to understand bills and energy-usage data. The network of trusted stakeholders engaged via the project was also vital to reaching vulnerable consumers, and through providing them with the skills needed to assist people with their energy needs should ensure that the benefits last beyond the lifespan of the project.

However, while the results were largely positive, the project also revealed the true difficulties faced by those in energy poverty, with many unable to make significant and meaningful adjustments to their energy-related behaviour because they were concerned about bills and already rationing their energy use beyond recommended levels. In these cases similar attention needs to be given towards ensuring that households also maintain adequate thermal comfort through providing holistic packages of advice and support which would also include topics such as understanding bills, dealing with energy debt and accessing other services.  

For further information and to access the research reports, training materials and other project resources please visit