Smart Meter Use Yields ‘Modest’ Savings

Smart meters, which can provide real-time energy use information to consumers, are yielding “modest” savings in the U.S., U.K. and Ireland, according to a study out from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The study said residential electricity savings tied to energy-use feedback  ranged from none at all to 19.5 percent, with average savings of 3.8 percent.

The highest levels of savings, at 19.5 percent, came in Northern Ireland, where a prepayment system was combined with real-time feedback. Under prepayment schemes, consumers pay for a set amount of electricity, and only receive more electricity with further payment.

Smart Meter

image via Shutterstock

“The high level of average savings in this case may be due, in part, to the fact that prepayment households were likely already monitoring their consumption and may have a strong motivation to keep costs down because of a high level of fuel poverty and high retail electricity rates,” the report noted.

On the other end of the spectrum, two pilot projects reviewed in the ACEEE report found that there was no effect in providing real-time information to households about their electricity use.

The report also highlighted a small portion of the population, called “cyber-sensitives,” who are more inclined to save electricity based on real-time information, but the report said that this group is hard to identify because it cuts across demographic lines. Researchers involved with the study say that means real-time feedback from smart meter may be used most cost effectively as a “boutique” energy strategy, targeting those individuals who actively monitor their energy use.

Despite what it found as only modest gains in energy savings, researchers said the study will shed light into how to best design and market various types of smart meters that will help people use them as their needs require.

“This level of savings is modest but encouraging, given the number of factors that appear to influence the use of feedback devices,” Ben Foster, senior analyst at ACEEE and lead author of the report, said in a statement.

“While by no means an exhaustive list, these factors include the design of the devices and the types of content they provide, the degree to which these devices enable the various tasks people want to accomplish using the information provided, negotiations between members of the household that influence energy use, and perhaps a predisposition in responding to information about energy use.”

Kristy Hessman is a writer and native Oregonian who currently resides in California. Before starting her own company, she worked as a reporter covering business and politics for daily newspapers and The Associated Press.