By Jonathan Spencer Jones

The importance of engaging consumers on smart grid is by now widely accepted but the key is in the implementation – and to ensure that it is done ‘right’ in Britain, SmartGrid GB points to what it sees as the way in a new report released yesterday.

The report, Smart grid: A great consumer opportunity, which was prepared with (the aptly named) Engage Consulting, is based on industry input from Britain as well as successful smart grid projects and customer engagement activities in other sectors elsewhere in the world. It also adopts the view that consumers are not one homogenous group, but have differing interests, both domestic and non-domestic.

According to the report progress has been made and good learning about consumer engagement is emerging from smart grid projects already being conducted in Britain which supports the conclusions of other projects around the world. However, more needs to be done.

Three main conclusions emerge:

  • Consumer awareness of their energy use and the wider impact they have on the energy system needs to be addressed in parallel with developing sophisticated approaches to communication of specific smart grid schemes
  • Benefits – whether financial or otherwise – have to be described clearly to consumers. The actions they need to take to realize particular benefits have to be succinctly described and, crucially, the benefit must be delivered to build continued trust
  • Effective schemes don’t focus on educating the consumer about the smart grid per se, but rather on the specific action consumers take.

In response, the report presents nine recommendations. The main three are:

  1. Further research should be conducted to quantify the value of smart grid schemes that do need customers to act, versus those smart grid technologies that do not, in order to support the business case for smart grid consumer engagement campaigns
  2. Industry should work towards a whole energy system demonstrator project or consolidation of a number of projects, with full representation from across the value chain to help stakeholders better understand smart grid consumer benefits
  3. A collaborative cross-value chain group to support consumer education and awareness of smart grid benefits should be investigated. Further, messaging in all areas of energy policy should be coordinated by government or an appointed objective central body and a general nationwide education program should be conducted to build awareness of the challenges facing the energy system.

“We have released a paper with a series of recommendations that we hope, if followed, will help the Department of Energy and Climate, Ofgem and other stakeholders, take the right next steps to ensure consumers are at the center of smart grid development and can access all its benefits,” said Robert McNamara, executive director of SmartGrid GB. “Britain is leading the world in this area, but getting future consumer engagement correct is a must.”