Smart home vision critical to selling benefits of smart meters: O2 report

Smart home vision critical to selling benefits of smart meters: O2 report

Report based on poll of more than 3,000 British adults, qualitative focus group and industry consultation shows: Low consumer awareness and understanding of smart meters | Visibility and control of energy use seen as key benefits but scepticism over cost savings | Security and privacy concerns must be addressed.

The concept of a smart home, where consumers can remotely manage their home appliances such as lights, heating, oven, TV and more, will be crucial to selling the benefits of smart meters to consumers.

That is the finding of a new report by O2, the commercial brand of Telefónica UK. The report is based on a YouGov poll of more than 3,000 GB adults, a consumer focus group and consultation with industry leaders, which highlights the importance of ongoing consumer engagement when rolling out the multi-billion pound smart meter programme.

In one of the largest national infrastructure projects of recent times, the Government is aiming to ensure every home and small business in Great Britain is equipped with a smart meter by 2019.

A smart meter will display the amount of energy used in pounds and pence allowing consumers to better understand and therefore manage their energy usage and related costs. The communication hub located within the smart meter will have the potential to create a home area network, acting as a gateway to future services in a connected home, such as remotely managing household appliances, heating systems, home security systems and even new eHealth services for managing chronic conditions.

Low awareness but potential to reduce energy consumption

The research found that there is currently a low level of consumer awareness with 63 percent of those surveyed not knowing what a smart meter is. Although when the concept was explained, respondents cited greater visibility (77 percent) and an end to estimated bills (73 percent) as the top two reasons in favour of a smart meter. 64 percent expect that more visibility into their energy usage would help them change behaviour in a way which could reduce their consumption.

The smart home

Analysts predict that we’ll have anywhere from 15 to 30 appliances and devices connected to a home network in the smart home of the future. The smart meter is just one of these and it will provide the foundation to allow consumers to interact with their homes in a completely new way.

Both the YouGov survey and a consumer focus group organised by Telefónica showed that the smart home is an appealing concept for consumers. 60 percent of those surveyed by YouGov said that the smart home makes smart meters a more appealing proposition. By contrast, the prospect of energy price reduction is less of an appeal. Only 23 percent of those surveyed felt that energy prices would drop and only 18 percent would be motivated to switch to a smart meter if the annual cost savings were £50 or less.

David Taylor, Managing Director, M2M, at Telefónica Digital UK said:
“The lessons from smart meter roll outs in other countries is that you have to bring consumers with you so they want to have these devices installed in their homes. The government understands this and is creating a Central Delivery Body to take on this task.”

“What our research shows is that in order to secure broad consumer support for smart meters it is important to communicate both the rational benefits – potential cost savings, carbon reduction – and also paint a compelling vision of the near term future, with the smart home providing consumers with a range of connected devices and services.”

Helen Rowley of Mumsnet, the UK’s biggest social network for parents, added that:
“For most parents, the promise of moderate savings from installing a smart meter is helpful, but the real appeal lies in time-saving activities, like being able to come home to a pre-heated oven. The smart home vision brings the benefits of smart meters to life.”

The Mumsnet focus group took place over two weeks, from the 9th – 23rd August 2012 and members of the research panel were invited to take part via a discussion thread which attracted more than 130 posts.

Consumer Concerns

The report highlights data privacy (59 percent), accuracy of billing (32 percent) and the installation process (28 percent) as the most important concerns that need to be addressed through any consumer engagement process.

Telefónica’s Taylor continues:
“The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is aware of the opportunities and concerns around smart metering and our report suggests that the measures it is putting in place around privacy and security through the creation of an independent Data Communications Company is the right approach.”

Telefónica UK, which operates the O2 brand in the UK, is bidding to be a communications service provider in the government’s smart metering implementation programme (SMIP). It commissioned the research to help all parties involved better understand consumer attitudes towards smart meters and inform thinking around how best to engage with them to ensure a successful rollout.

Based on the findings, Telefónica makes five recommendations for consideration:

1. Take a partnership approach to consumer engagement with all the companies involved in the programme clearly articulating the benefits of smart metering and the smart home while utilizing the trust and expertise of third parties such as consumer groups, charities and other voluntary bodies

2. Address concerns around privacy and security through open and honest communication around the measures undertaken to protect consumer data and the role of the DCC as an independent entity which consumers can trust to protect their data and its usage

3. Build an ecosystem, through open standards and defined specifications, which will encourage and incentivise third party innovation to extend the benefits of smart metering to consumers through additional applications and services

4. Create a code of practice for installation to ensure installers are highly trained, trusted, certified, and aware of the needs of different consumer segments

5. Create a network which can support future applications by being scalable, open, and able to support the smart home vision from day one

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