Improving Energy Consumption Feedback (II)
Researching consumer preferences for improved feedback on their energy bills
Project duration: July 2003 to May 2004
The objective of this project was to explore how 'on-bill feedback' could motivate consumers to reduce their energy use and thereby save money and reduce pollution. It may also enable consumers to make more informed choices about switching energy suppliers.
Following research into the subject for Ofgem undertaken by CSE in 2003, this study aimed to identify appropriate and effective methods for presenting consumption feedback to consumers while taking into account the practicality of implementation in both the short and longer term.
This study undertook focus group research to assess consumer preferences for feedback and improved information. It also engaged with energy suppliers to understand and explore the range of constraints they perceive in introducing new feedback techniques.
A series of seven focus groups in three different parts of England was held, dividing groups by bill payment method (direct debit, quarterly credit and prepayment).
The views and concerns of energy suppliers were examined through a stakeholder workshop and subsequent discussions with the six main energy suppliers in the UK.
The focus groups found very consistent perspectives on energy suppliers, energy saving and energy bills. If the focus group participants are ‘typical energy consumers’ then the findings show that energy consumers:
- check their bills to see what they owe (or if they’re in credit) and if it’s an estimate, but they ignore the enclosed leaflets
- exhibit a high level of cynicism about the motives of energy suppliers to promote energy saving and generally low levels of trust in their advice
- reveal barely discernible levels of awareness of the Energy Efficiency Commitment (EEC) and the obligations it places on suppliers
- show high awareness and knowledge of energy-saving measures and techniques, but don’t know the cost (and assume they are expensive)
- demonstrated little motivation to act and high resistance to being ‘sold to’ (particularly on the doorstep) or ‘nagged’ to act
- had very clear preferences (and particular dislikes) on feedback options
- would, given the right feedback, examine reasons for change in consumption and may be stimulated to take action.
The focus group participants also expressed clear and consistent preferences for how consumption feedback could be improved through simple bar charts on bills to compare energy use in the most recent quarter with either the same quarter last year or the whole of last year.
A range of concerns for energy suppliers were identified, including existing billing system constraints (particularly with ‘legacy’ systems) and the potential cost of undertaking new billing system developments to provide improved feedback. The failure to transfer historical consumption data with the records of consumers switching supplier is also an obstacle to improved feedback.
These reservations aside, there was strong interest from several of the suppliers in the concept of improving feedback and energy information to achieve greater energy saving (and potentially referrals to their EEC programmes). The study concluded that the potential for a consumer trial involving a number of suppliers in collaboration with Ofgem is reasonably good.
The study, completed in May 2004, outlined proposals to move forward to a controlled consumer trial to test real consumer reaction to the preferred feedback concepts identified in the focus groups.
CSE is now working with Ofgem to prepare the groundwork for a consumer trial.