Supporting vulnerable consumers to benefit from their smart meters

Making smart meter benefits accessible to all

Project duration: January 2017 to September 2018

Does an ‘enhanced’ smart-meter installation and follow-up advice help vulnerable consumers optimise their energy usage and realize the benefits from their smart meters?

To find out, we offered two householder types - people with arthritis and low income families - either a follow-up home visit or phone advice after a smart meter had been fitted in an installation ‘enhanced’ by a demonstration of the device and energy advice tailored to the property condition and household circumstances.

CSE worked in partnership with British Gas to deliver this project. CSE was responsible for all data collection activities and for independent reporting of the findings.

Key findings

People with arthritis or other long term health condition and living on a low income tread a fine line between keeping their home comfortably warm and feeling confident about their ability to pay their energy bills. Most participants of this trial already heated their homes to temperatures between 18-21°C when at home in the daytime and early evening - and continued to do so after advice. Nearly all reported reduced levels of worry about their energy bills following enhanced installation and follow-up advice.

Enhanced installer visits - in which installers demonstrated to the householder the functions of the in-home display (IHD) that accompanies a smart meter, and did so in step with their understanding, and delivered energy advice tailored to the property condition and household circumstances - contributed to consumer’s confidence in how to use the IHD and their recall of energy advice.

Consumers who received follow-up home visits appreciated the face-to-face delivery of advice and a further demonstration of the different IHD functions which gave them reassurance and the confidence to try things for themselves rather than needing to read a guide. Follow-up home visits familiarised consumers with a variety of ways of using the IHD to understand their energy usage and enabled the delivery of more general energy advice, including the use of heating controls. This contributed to improved energy literacy and, for some, increased engagement with their energy usage.

Conclusions

The modest scale of the trial in terms of size and duration limits the ability to conclusively answer the research questions set out. The findings nevertheless add to the growing body of knowledge of how vulnerable customers can be supported to share in the promised benefits of the smart meter rollout.

The project findings point to the importance of an unrushed, step-by-step and face-to-face demonstration of IHD functions by the installer and for energy advice that takes into account the householder’s circumstances and the condition of their home. It also provides some evidence to support the case that vulnerable households should be offered a follow-up home visit which combines a further demonstration of IHD functions with more energy advice. However, the limited scale of the trial meant that no hard evidence was generated to show what energy or financial savings would result for households. 

The research exposes tensions between the promise of smart metering as an enabler of greater control and the limited energy-saving options low-income households feel are available to them once their heating needs and other routine energy-using practices that they value are taken into account.

Next steps

Project findings will be shared with policy makers, practitioners and third party stakeholders (such as consumer and fuel poverty advice bodies) to contribute to industry-wide lesson-learning on what support for vulnerable consumers is effective in enabling them to benefit from smart metering. The project received grant funding from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.


Download the main report, Supporting vulnerable consumers to benefit from their smart meters
Download the Annex
Download the booklet, Using your smart energy monitor 
Download the SEE customer checklist

For further information contact:

Nicky Hodges | 0117 934 1400

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