For smart meters to work, people need to act on them

This is a guest post by Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of the charity Groundwork.

The roll out of smart meters across the UK is a great opportunity to influence people’s behaviour and reduce CO2 emissions. If planned right, a visit to every home and the replacement of around 50 million gas and electricity meters could make real inroads into public awareness of energy consumption.

I believe firmly, however, that householders would benefit from targeted support alongside the installation of these meters – especially the most vulnerable householders at risk of fuel poverty. After all, a house filled with shiny tools cannot save energy if the householder doesn’t know how and why they should use those tools – and what the benefits are.

Currently there is no obligation on energy suppliers to do anything other than to install these smart meters. I would like to see the government encourage and incentivise suppliers to work with others who can help bring about real behaviour change.

Last year Groundwork commissioned a survey asking people who they wanted to install energy efficiency measures in their homes. We found that as you might expect, people wanted someone they felt was on their side – which they don’t think is always the energy company.

This is an area where the voluntary and community sector can really deliver. It has no vested interests, and, more importantly, it has the expertise in community engagement that is needed. Organisations like Groundwork operate at the heart of our communities and can build upon existing relationships with local groups to raise awareness at a local level.

I’m not calling for an army of energy ‘experts’ – what we need are trained, dependable, and independent advisers to explain things in a language householders can easily understand. We needed trusted messangers to lay out the options and to help people take charge of the technology.

Groundwork has been working with Southern Water on a similar scheme. As the company installs water meters in people’s homes, we offer individual support and help the householder look at how they can save water, save energy and save money. It works well; people are engaged and motivated when the advice comes at the same time as the installation, and above all it comes from a trusted intermediary.

I would like to see many more energy and water companies take a similar approach. It is one of the essential building blocks in making utilities more affordable, and in making sustainable living a reality.

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