It is high time for a smarter use of the Smart Meter!

It is one of the largest infrastructure projects: providing all households in the Netherlands with a Smart meter. Why are we investing so much in it? To start with, the idea is to achieve a 3.5% energy saving. However, the media keep speaking of the imminent failure of this goal. Naturally, having a Smart meter in itself does not automatically mean that we deal smarter with energy. What we need is to get the measurement data literally in sight to do be able to do something with it. And still, to date, we get no display! .

Research at home and abroad shows that adding a screen to the Smart meter does indeed lead to more energy saving. This screen can best be placed in the living room so that you can easily see your current energy consumption. Our research in Rotterdam IJselmonde showed that residents saved an average of 5.6% on electricity and 6.9% on gas. That’s a good €120 per year. And that’s the average: some people did not really take part, others saved more than 20%! By simply putting a screen in the living room, where you can also set saving goals, and where you can keep checking live your energy use. Apps on the phone or computer quickly disappear from our attention and often work with older, non-real time data. Further, residents showed preference for a simple display. With no extra beeps or bells. For some of the consumers it is important that their data remains “home”, without using the Internet, protecting their privacy and independence from the energy supplier. And without any recurring subscription fees.

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But why isn’t everyone buying such a wonderful thing if it’s true that it pays back in a year? Research shows that most people are less rational than planners sometimes think. Even if you neatly calculate it all, many people cannot or do not want to put those €100 on the table. They either do not have the money, or they see it as paying for something that they should actually be doing themselves. In a way that’s true: saving energy – that you do yourself. Further, some believe that it is “better to have €100 in my hand now, rather than counting on a chance of €110 in a month time.” As a result, the individual sales of the simple in-home displays is not going so smoothly. Not to mention that suppliers have no business case for displays without subscription fees.

The investment in the conversion of all old meters into new meters would cost us all around €3.3 billion. On the other hand, a return of some 3.5% in savings is expected. That would not be achieved if we leave it purely to the market. It seems too much money to be put into an operation that yields too little. It makes one think of the railways debacle: We build a high-speed line, but there is no train to run on it. The government looks on helplessly, caught in the belief that the market should be free and that there should be no interference. But isn’t the large-scale introduction of the Smart meter already a form of intervening in the market?

Fortunately, there are municipalities and housing associations that do want to pick up the project and find ways to make simple and effective in-home displays easily available to residents. They know all too well that you should not just throw the displays in the postbox, or down the chimney. To put them to good use, there needs to be a short explanation given by, for example, an energy coach. If the government still wants to save their big investment, they can seize the opportunity now and, together with municipalities, offer displays to residents on a large-scale. The costs are a fraction of those of the Smart meters.

In November 2016 we organised an information session together with Wijksteunpunt Wonen in Amsterdam on the Smart meter that will be offered in the neighbourhood in the following weeks. The event was extremely busy, and many people were remarkably interested in saving energy, as for them every euro counts. They were bitterly disappointed to find out that the most important piece from all the meter cupboard renovation and works would be missing. That is, the only piece that they were actually interested in – a display that would bring all the information outside of the meter cupboard in their living room, in plain sight. A display that would easily show where they stand and how they could manage their energy use. Let’s hope that we can soon make these people happy with a tool that enables them to make a smart use of their Smart meters.

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