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55% ‘in the dark’ about smart meters

DECC plan risks seeing consumers ‘switched off before the meters are switched on’

energy billDespite being sold as the way to help both consumers and suppliers better understand household energy usage, more than half of those surveyed report not knowing what they do — let alone how they could benefit them.

New research from uSwitch found that 55% do not know what a smart meter does, and 13% (down from 19% just last year) are happy with their current level of knowledge.

The aim of DECC is to have every household in the UK outfitted with a smart meter by 2019, in a move to improve understanding of energy consumption with a view to lower both carbon emissions and energy bills.

However, the uSwitch research found that only 48% think that smart meters will assist them in understanding their energy usage.

Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at uSwitch, finds these numbers very troubling:

“Smart meters have the potential to spark a step change in how people think about and mangage household energy bills. However, this will only happen if consumers are given the right support and education. This has to happen ahead of the roll out and, with 2 million meters already installed, it really is a case of the sooner, the better.”

Cost and security concerns

Meanwhile, 44% cast doubt on the cost the government’s lofty undertaking (estimated to be £11 billion).

Still others are concerned about how their privacy will be addressed: 40% are worried suppliers will use the information gathered by the meters to sell them products; 33% worry the installation process will be an opportunity to be sold to.

For privacy concerns, consumers do have some reassurance. Ofgem last month approved the Smart Metering Installation Code of Practice, designed to protect consumers throughout the roll-out process.

This includes prohibiting sales attempts during installation unless previous consent to do so has been granted by the household. The code allows fines to be levied if its rules are breached.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Baroness Verma said of the approval: “This code is central to providing a positive customer experience during installation – including protecting customers from unwanted marketing and ensuring installers explain how the meter can be used to improve energy efficiency.”

‘Switched off before the meters are switched on’

Robinson also applauds the approval of the code, but warns that the energy sector this has a long way to go.

“Knowledge is power. Consumers need to know what the benefits of smart metering are and how to go about realising them. They also need reassurance that smart meters aren’t going to snoop and pry and that they won’t leave the door open for dodgy sales tactics.

“Ofgem has taken a step in the right direction by approving a new Smart Metering Installation Code of Practice, but the industry now has to keep up the momentum. Without better communication and information we are in danger of seeing consumers switched off before the meters are even switched on.”

Learn more

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