Worried about energy costs, but skeptical of smart meters

Smart meters are touted as a way to cut energy usage and save consumers money. But not everyone is on board with this green solution. According to a UK survey, people who worry about their electricity bills are also more reluctant to adopt smart meters.

In the past, people found out their electricity usage only when they received their statements from the utility company. But some countries have begun adopting smart meters, which wirelessly transmit readings and allow consumers to frequently check their stats online. By being better-informed about their energy usage, the thinking goes, people will use electricity more sparingly — a boon for the environment and their pocketbooks.

The introduction of smart meters, however, has been met with “mixed responses,” the study authors write. To find out more about the public’s attitudes toward this new technology, the team surveyed 2,441 people in the UK. Participants were asked how concerned they were about issues such as climate change, power cuts, and the cost of electricity and gas. The questionnaire also presented possible smart meter scenarios, such as automatically shutting off unused electronic devices.

More than half of the respondents were willing to cut their energy usage, the researchers report in Nature Climate Change. But some people had concerns about privacy; about one-fifth did not want to share their data with electricity suppliers, energy regulators, researchers, or government agencies.

One might assume that people who are the most concerned about energy costs would be the most eager to adopt smart meters. But the team found the opposite: those participants were actually less likely to consider the smart meter scenarios or data sharing acceptable. “This fits with the idea that those with less power in society may perceive themselves as more vulnerable to exploitation,” the authors write. To assuage these concerns, utility companies may need to give users more control over their data.Roberta Kwok | 30 April 2015

Source: Spence, A. et al. 2015. Public perceptions of demand-side management and a smarter energy future. Nature Climate Change doi: 10.1038/nclimate2610.

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