Innovative smart meter services in Europe
Project duration: April 2014 ongoing
The USmartConsumer project aims to provide European households – tenants and owners – with improved information through smart meters, engaging them with innovative services that help to save gas and electricity.
Energy used in the home represents 28% of EU energy consumption. That is why Intelligent Energy Europe (IEE – part of the European Union) have made ‘guiding consumers to save energy at home by changing their behaviour, reaping the benefits of smart meters’ a priority action and co-funded the project. Eight European countries are involved: Austria, Finland, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the UK. The variety of smart meter technologies and services available in partner nations, alongside a commitment to expand the rollout, will generate wide practical experience; this can be shared between like EU regions wishing to implement smart meter technology. CSE has been commissioned to coordinate the project activities within the UK.
The official project website can be found here.
Making smart meters work for all stakeholders
A smart meter measures energy usage in real-time. This can be shown on an in-home display (IHD) – a monitor which gives feedback on energy use – so users are aware of the demand of different appliances. The monitor can also communicate this usage to energy suppliers. In spite of the large number of smart meter rollouts in Europe, a challenge remains in making them work for both utility company and consumer benefit.
As the situation currently stands, most EU countries have smart meter services that ‘talk to’ the supplier; a two-way information exchange can provide data on clients’ consumption, or, can adjust when heating systems and appliances are powered to coincide with periods where electricity is cheapest. For example, technology in Finland transmits hourly updates on energy prices via smart meters to coordinate when heating systems are switched on. However, many nations’ programmes lack IHDs that convey this information to the customer, so they can save energy and money.
Benefits for utilities and regulators
Facilitating smart meter rollout will benefit energy companies and service providers in two ways. It will: attract new customers interested in their services and build loyalty amongst their existing service users; gather data on the impact of smart metering enabling them to plan future infrastructure changes i.e. prepare for changes in demand.
Benefits for consumers
A key part of this will be producing user-friendly interfaces that improve consumers’ awareness of consumption levels and patterns; more frequent and better information will allow them to save more energy. Smart meters will provide simple visualisation of real time data that’s easily accessible on the internet via computers, smart phones or tablets. And as the technology can communicate usage to energy suppliers, smart meters also signal a welcome end to estimated bills.
Here's a news story on our research that found that householders with smart prepayment meters who are shown how to use the connected in-home displays for energy efficiency, will monitor their energy use, set daily targest and budget better.
Each partner nation will promote different smart meter services based on varying needs and infrastructure. IHDs are fairly widespread in the UK, so our focus will is on smart pay-as-you-go (PAYG) meters. PAYG meters are more commonplace in fuel poor and vulnerable households, so improvements that help these clients (who pay for their electricity in advance of consuming it) will simultaneously benefit some of the most disadvantaged households.
Existing prepayment meter customers will have greater flexibility of top-up options (by phone or online, as well as at their local Pay Point) – very handy for people who can’t easily get to the shops to top up. Combined with accurate information on energy usage from the IHD, there’s huge potential for households to avoid self disconnection and manage their energy budgets effectively.
Prepayment tariffs tend to be more expensive than credit meters. This is in part due to the standing charge – a fixed daily amount to cover the costs of transporting energy and checking the meter. As meter checks will no longer be necessary, some suppliers will offer tariffs without this charge, meaning smart PAYG meters could become a good value option.
What we want to achieve
The aims of the project are as follows:
- Inform European householders through a wide information and media campaign with strong involvement from both consumer associations and energy companies. Engage consumers with the innovative services smart meters offer to encourage behaviour change and energy efficiency improvements needed for wide scale energy savings.
- Support cost-effectiveness for users and energy market stakeholders by working directly with suppliers in the field.
- Facilitate networking and knowledge transfer among consumers, regulators, the metering industry, network operators and suppliers. Determine how smart meters will enable energy saving, how different customers accept and react to these services and how customer-technology interaction can be improved to increase the service effectiveness. Use this to define the commercial feasibility and proper market models to offer the services. This will lead to positive effects regarding the security of supply in Europe, will contribute to climate change mitigation and will also have positive impacts in terms of economic growth and jobs creation