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Empowering Energy Consumers – the untapped resource in our low carbon future

28 July 2010
Empowering Energy Consumers – the untapped resource in our low carbon future

By Molly Webb, Head of Smart Technologies, The Climate Group.

Today, we are in the dark. We know very little about the energy we use on a daily basis – from how much we consume, to the cost, source and carbon content of our power.  The road to a sustainable, low carbon future is paved with technologies like smart meters, digital components and communications, smart appliances and devices that can unleash energy-saving innovations in homes and businesses.  These technologies can harness the power of millions of people to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save consumers billions in energy costs.

But to consumers, the technologies that make energy visible must also be reliable and cost-effective. Most people probably don’t care about owning a smart meter, but we will care about saving money on our bills, or knowing that our power comes from renewable sources. We will also want to know our data is secure and only seen by third parties with our consent. Only when these benefits are clear will demand for new services like smart charging for electric vehicles, distributed power generation and home energy management systems continue to grow -- and have the desired global results. Our SMART 2020 report showed that a full smart grid could deliver 2 Gt CO2e savings in 2020, globally, or 4 times the size of the UK’s carbon footprint.

To understand key issues facing energy consumers in the transition to a low carbon future, yesterday we co-hosted a roundtable with Google. Participants included CEOs of metering and smart grid companies, privacy advocates and senior representatives from Ofgem, DECC, technology and utility companies.

As the group sat down to the discussion, just down the road in the House of Commons, Secretary of State Chris Huhne was calling for metering to be rolled out by 2016, and DECC and Ofgem had just published their smart metering prospectus.

Participants were aligned in their commitment to giving consumers better energy information, and their belief that bringing information and communication technologies (ICT) into the electricity system can have a significant impact on emissions.  But key issues remain (see background paper for more detail):

  1. How can we ensure an open platform where consumers have meaningful choices?
  2. How can we best protect consumer privacy and security? 
  3. How can programs helping consumers monitor and manage their energy use intersect with other goals?

It is becoming clear that engaging consumers in smart grid - and in smart metering - is a key element of successful projects. Achieving sustainability, energy and climate objectives will require their full participation, and we look forward to taking this work forward.

Yesterday's discussion forms part of The Climate Group’s SMART 2020 programme, which aims to develop 10 flagship ‘smart’ demonstration projects in the next three years. The programme will support dialogue around key policy issues that arise in the areas of smart grid, smart buildings and smart transportation in order to finance and bring ICT solutions to scale.

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