Smart metering is a good idea, but in practice, a real-time meter is little use if householders don’t act on what it says.
Now, the think tank Policy Exchange has piled into the debate. What they say is needed is some good old-fashioned keeping up with the neighbours to make sure this happens.
It’s about comparative billing, where you can see how much your neighbour’s energy is costing them to compare with your own – though it’s important to point out that householders sign up anonymously to such a scheme. No-one wants frugal energy use to degenerate to fisticuffs after all.
A trial in Camden, London, showed cuts in gas use of six per cent. But the key here is that it wasn’t just the ability to see what those in a similar property nearby were paying that instigated any breakthrough, but energy-saving advice timed with this knowledge. Getting the timing right, especially when it comes to local, face-to-face advice, has always been a central tenet of our approach, so this is something we can unequivocally back.
The report, Smarter, Greener, Cheaper, also backs energy efficiency schemes being able to compete for funding through ECO, ‘community champions’ for smart meters, and good quality marketing and advertising to capitalise on the rollout.
It’s ultimately all about the kind of simple behavioural economics popularised with the book ‘Nudge’ – thinking that has inspired the likes of Opower with their Social Energy Facebook app and various small-scale trials of competitive energy-saving. There’s the inter-hall competition at the University of St. Andrews, for example, and attempts to use employee rivalry to nudge businesses to greener heights.
A lot of previous research that we’ve conducted over the years has suggested that people certainly want to be seen as doing their bit in terms of living a more sustainable lifestyle. How much this is due to sort of looking over shoulders at what the Joneses are doing is admittedly hard to quantify.
More cosmetic energy-related additions to homes like solar panels do undoubtedly cause more of a stir at street level than simply being more frugal with what you use indoors, and by logical extension are more likely to bring about thoughts of ‘I want one of them’. So any methods of getting less-flashy behaviour change more ingrained in people’s daily routines has to be looked at seriously.
Of course, if you’re one of those people who want to do more to save energy but haven’t quite stepped it up a gear, if this approach gets the go-ahead you best hope you’ve got highly-motivated folk next door. Altogether now: “everybody needs good neighbours…”