Energy efficiency and the consumer - a European survey

Research organisation LogicaCMG commissioned a survey of consumers in four European countries earlier this year – the UK, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal – with the aim of understanding consumer attitudes towards energy consumption, what drives behaviour, and what could lead to this behaviour changing in future.

Key findings indicate that most consumers are concerned about environmental issues, with 80% of respondents saying they worry about climate change. However, the survey also suggests that financial cost is the single biggest reason for people to reduce energy consumption – 78% of respondents said they would change their behaviour if energy prices doubled.

But the research also indicated that better information (including from smart metering screens and government information campaigns) would help to encourage more efficient use of energy. Almost seven out of ten respondents said they would act “if they had a little screen in their home that told them exactly how much energy each device in their home was using at any one moment, in a way that they understood”.

So technology has a vital role to play – in particular a widespread rollout of smart meters which can be linked with a small remote screen mounted in a kitchen or living room that shows how much energy is being used in real time, and how the amount of energy consumed changes through the day.

SMART METERS

When respondents were asked whether they had heard of smart meters, only 22% answered in the affirmative. The highest level of awareness was in the UK, where smart meters have been publicised by organisations like energywatch, a consumer watchdog body; here close to 40% of respondents said they had heard of smart meters. Some 25% of Portuguese respondents agreed, but very few in the Netherlands and Spain knew anything about the technology.

Bill reduction diagram.JPG

Once the concept was explained, however, over 75% of people in the four countries said they thought that smart meters were a good idea. Enthusiasm was strongest in Portugal, with 86% in favour – perhaps because they already have a relatively high awareness of smart meters, and also possibly because of a general enthusiasm for new technology in the country. People in the Netherlands were the least enthusiastic (61%), a remarkable finding given that all meters in their country are due to be replaced by smart meters within six to ten years.

The main reason why some respondents said they might not want a smart meter is fear of the potential cost – over four out of ten said that if the meters were not installed for free it would be a concern. These results suggest that some of the cost burden of installing smart meters should be taken away from the consumer, and also that the costs and benefits should be made clear.

If utilities can confirm emerging business cases in which they do not need to charge large amounts for installation, yet can still achieve cost savings for their own organisations, consumers could be swayed by the potential to reduce energy consumption and therefore their annual energy bills.

CONCLUSION The survey suggests that there are solutions for the future as countries in Europe tackle the need to reduce energy consumption – but that there are lessons for governments, regulators and energy suppliers alike. Consumers need to be convinced of the financial benefits of changing their behaviour, and if the financial case is clear, then environmental concerns will be an important additional incentive. This should be reflected in educational communication campaigns and in the day-to-day engagement of utilities with their customers. Energy companies in the Netherlands are already aware of this, and several of them are due to start publicity campaigns about smart meters – including information displays – to inform end-users about energy consumption and costs. The recent EU Energy Green Paper released by the European Commission indicated that the best way to reduce emissions is to reduce energy consumption, and the results of this survey show that consumers’ consumption behaviour could indeed change if they had the right information, presented in a way that is easily understood, and delivered at a non-prohibitive price.