When it comes to home energy management displays — devices and dashboards that will help you manage your energy consumption — what’s better: have utilities install these things alongside smart meter rollouts, or leave it up to customers to choose if they want one or not? That debate is raging in the UK right now, and a British power industry trade group that includes British Gas, EDF, and npower, called the Energy Retail Association (ERA), is currently lobbying the UK government to avoid having to install a £15 (about $25) energy display in homes as part of the mandate to install smart meters in every home by 2020.
It’s easy to brush aside the concerns of the utilities as not wanting to foot the bill for the extra gear for purely economic reasons. In addition, home energy displays will clearly play a crucial and valuable role in the smart grid. But I think the debate raises important questions about how consumers will actually want to access their energy data and if there is a one-size-fits-all solution. As the ERA told the Times, the companies want to “offer customers precisely the kind of display they would find most useful — whether this is with a display unit, via a web site, or even through a mobile phone application.”
According to GigaOM Pro research from Clint Wheelock, it’s a mixed bag whether consumers are interested in an energy display at all, with about 50 percent saying they are very interested and 50 percent saying they are somewhat interested to not interested. Unfortunately, the market is just too new, and this issue will only truly be understood once smart meters are installed and consumers get used to interacting with the technology.
Of course, the companies that are selling energy displays support mandating the devices. Joel Hagan, the CEO of UK startup Onzo, said in an email that there “should certainly be an obligation on suppliers to provide information to consumers on their energy use (and) if you had to pick one channel to mandate, then it would be the energy display because of its effect (5 percent to 20 percent savings) and the fact that it can be deployed to everyone.”
So for the case of the ERA and the mandated energy display, I think the price of the device is low enough (not sure if the £15 includes an installation fee) that it would be beneficial for both the consumer and the utility. Each smart meter itself will cost several hundred dollars to install, so adding on a cheap component that can improve the use of the system, and help the utility and the consumer save money, would be very valuable. If the device being mandated was, say, £150, well, then that would be another story entirely.
Such a mandated device is also probably very simple (at that price point) so it leaves the possibility for consumers to upgrade to fancier devices and additional services, which could provide more revenue for the utility. While I ultimately believe choice is usually the best option for the consumer marketplace, these smart meters are already being mandated, so in this case automatically including a low-cost component that can make the technology much more effective is a good idea. What do you think?