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article imageUK's £11bn 'smart meter' rollout needs 'rethink,' say researchers

By James Walker     Sep 19, 2017 in Technology
The UK's ambitious rollout of "smart" energy meters is a long way off achieving its targets, according to researchers studying the program. The aim to get a connected meter into every house has been held back by consumer resistance and device problems.
The UK officially turned on its smart energy meter network last year. The new meters allow the homeowner to monitor their exact usage data and see how it translates to their energy bill. The UK Government devised the idea as a way of reducing energy usage. By letting people see how they much they consume, they may be inspired to try to bring it down.
An in-depth study from the University of Bath has found there's still a lot of work still to do. As PhysX reports, the researchers think the meters being installed aren't "smart" enough. Although the devices show real-time energy use, they stop short of providing actionable advice to the homeowner.
The team designed a new meter that's equipped with a wider range of sensors. After installing the device in 47 homes, the occupants managed to reduce their energy usage by an impressive 22 percent. The meter makes recommendations on how to save electricity by observing average use over the past week.
Unlike the meters being installed by the government, the researchers' one does more than just show usage. It connects to a smartphone app and uses "simple language" to help homeowners understand their energy bill. It looks for ways to reduce consumption by analysing the homeowner's patterns and how they relate to average use. This allows it to spot unnecessary consumption when the house is empty.
"For example, if a home owner’s central heating stayed on until 10am each day despite the house being unoccupied by 8am, the device would calculate the amount of money being wasted and suggest the home owner adjust their heating clock to 8am," explained the team.
Smart meters need a rethink  say researchers
Smart meters need a rethink, say researchers
University of Bath
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The research conducted by the University is just the latest setback for the UK government. Its original plan was to spend £11 billion to get a smart meter installed in every home by 2020. The campaign has been hit with issues ranging from security concerns to widespread consumer scepticism of the rollout.
A year after the launch, just seven percent of homes have accepted a device. The government now faces the impossible task of installing 40,000 meters a day until the program ends.
The study demonstrates that the concept behind the rollout is sound. Homeowners stand to save significant amounts of energy if smart meters are made "smarter" and widely adopted. The team called for "change" to save the smart meter rollout before it's too late.
"We have shown that presenting energy data and feedback in a clear and understandable way has a positive effect on the energy behaviour of home owners. For the first time, a smart metering system has been designed to help people learn what they need to do, and only interact with them if they might be being profligate," said David Coley, Project Lead and Professor of Low Carbon Design at Bath University. "Current smart meters are being rolled out across the country at a cost of a staggering £11 billion but, through design, are limited in their ability to help reduce energy consumption. This needs to change."
The UK intended to use the smart meters to help it meet its climate change targets. A year into the program, it's clear the current approach isn't working as designed. It's already had to backtrack on its plan to make installation obligatory. Now, it may have to consider switching customers to a "smarter" smart meter.
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