Smart metering: what potential fo...
RESEARCH PAPER Smart metering:what potential for householderengagement? Sarah Darby Lower Carbon Futures,Environmental Change Institute,Oxford University Centre for the Environment, South Parks Road,Oxford,OX13QY,UK E-mail: email@example.com The argument for the implementation of ���smart��� metering, which is an elastic term, varies according to circumstance and place. In some countries, the business case for establishing an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) relies in part on improving consumption feedback to customers and assisting in the transition to lower-impact energy systems. There is an expectation that AMI will lead to reductions in both the demand and the cost to serve customers through improved communication, but little evidence exists to show overall demand reduction. To what extent might smart meters improve the prospects for customer engagement? To assess this question, end-user perceptions and practices must be considered along with metering hardware and economics. Using the theory of affordances, qualitative research is examined to understand how householders have used consumption feedback, with and without smart meters. Although AMI offers possibilities for household energy management and customer���utility relations, there is little evidence to suggest it will automatically achieve a significant reduction in energy demand. For that, there has to be a determined focus on overall demand reduction (rather than on peak electricity demand reduction), on designing customer interfaces for ease of understanding, and on guiding occupants towards appropriate action. Appropriate forms of interface, feedback, narrative, and support will be needed to reach diverse populations. Keywords: affordances, behaviour, energy demand, energy management, feedback, households, housing, human agency, smart metering Les arguments en faveur de la mise en ��uvre d���un comptage ��intelligent��, qui est un terme souple, varient en fonction des circonstances et du pays concerne. �� Dans certains pays, le business case pour mettre en place une infrastructure de comptage avancee �� (AMI) s���appuie en partie sur une amelioration �� du retour d���information fourni aux clients sur leur consommation, et sur l���aide apportee �� pour passer a ` des systemes ` energetiques �� �� presentant �� un impact moindre. Il est attendu d���une AMI qu���elle conduise a ` la fois a ` une reduction �� de la demande et a ` une reduction �� du cout �� de desserte des clients grace �� a ` des ameliorations �� en terme de communication, mais il existe peu de donnees �� probantes a ` l���appui d���une reduction �� globale de la demande. Dans quelle mesure des compteurs intelligents pourraient-ils ameliorer �� les chances de voir le client s���impliquer? Afin d���evaluer �� cette question, il est necessaire �� d���examiner les perceptions et les pratiques des utilisateurs finaux en meme �� temps que le materiel �� de comptage et les aspects economiques. �� En utilisant la theorie �� des affordances, l���etude �� qualitative est examinee �� de fac ��on a ` comprendre comment les occupants ont utilise�� le retour d���information sur leur consommation, avec et sans compteurs intelligents. Bien qu���une AMI offre des possibilites �� en matiere ` de gestion energetique �� �� des menages �� et de relations client-fournisseur d���energie, �� il y a peu de donnees �� probantes permettant de suggerer �� que cela assurera automatiquement une reduction �� sensible de la demande energetique. �� �� Pour ce faire, il importe de mettre l���accent sur une reduction �� globale de la demande (plutot �� que sur une reduction �� des pics de consommation electrique), �� sur la conception d���interfaces client faciles a ` comprendre et sur la fourniture de conseils aux occupants pour qu���ils prennent les mesures appropriees. �� Il sera necessaire �� de disposer d���interfaces, d���un retour d���information, de descriptifs et d���une assistance aux formes adaptees �� pour pouvoir toucher des populations diverses. Mots cle ��s: affordances, comportement, demande energetique, �� �� gestion energetique, �� �� retour d���information, menages,�� logement, human agency, comptage intelligent BUILDING RESEARCH & INFORMATION (2010) 38(5), 442���457 Building Research & Information ISSN 0961-3218 print ���ISSN 1466-4321 online # 2010 Taylor & Francis http: ��� ���www.informaworld.com ���journals DOI: 10.1080/09613218.2010.492660
Introduction Smart metering, though first proposed in the 1970s, has only come into full view during the past decade. Commercial interest has now reached the point at which present and future investment in smart metering in the European Union has been estimated at E51 billion, with potential financial benefits ranging from E14 billion to E67 billion (Faruqui et al., 2009a). Smart metering is a relatively new addition to the energy policy toolbox, and the terminology is still developing. It is worth taking time to look at some of the components of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), and to examine how these relate to household energy management, the need to reduce overall or peak demand, and the adoption of domestic low- and zero-carbon technologies. In particular, this paper deals with questions of customer engagement with some of the technical and management systems that are made possible by AMI. Is smart metering capable of supporting the types of relationship and practice that are likely to lead to lower-impact energy use? This is approached in the following sequence: the concept of affordances is introduced and briefly dis- cussed, then definitions relating to smart metering are considered. An outline of the European and United Kingdom policy contexts for smart metering follows a look will then be made at the uses of energy feedback to consumers. An account of some recent qualitative research on customer experiences of using feedback leads into the summary and conclusions. A��ordances The idea of affordances was introduced by the psychol- ogist J. J. Gibson to convey the possibilities for action in one���s surroundings (Gibson, 1977). Affordances were defined as the ���action possibilities��� latent in the environment. They are measurable and exist indepen- dently of whether they are recognized by an organism or actor but at the same time they exist in relation to the abilities of an actor. A ball of wool presents differ- ent affordances to a cat, a child or an adult, for example. The term has been described as ���an attempt to put meaning back into the world, within a relational ontology��� ��� interpreting things as they are both per- ceived and used ��� at a time when the dualisms between humanity and ���nature���, quantity and quality, were particularly pronounced in the industrialized world (Costall, 1995, p. 477). The concept of affordances thus brings together phys- ical properties, agency, and meaning. Affordances exist in the ���natural��� world, but are also designed into one���s surroundings. In terms of daily practice, ���meaning��� is not an optional extra for a well-designed affordance. People need to know what red buttons, arrow keys or dialling tones mean in order to go about their business safely and effectively: perceived affordance can be at least as important as actual (phys- ical) affordance (Norman, 1999). Introducing this concept to a consideration of a new technological application, smart metering, is useful not only because it puts the energy user close to the centre of the discussion, but also because it sites the energy user in relation to technology, and in relation to the designers of a smart metering system. In this way, it sheds some light on the possibilities for house- holder engagement with smart meters. Before consider- ing wider issues related to metering, the idea of affordances provides a useful way of contemplating possible interactions between householders and their artefacts in future, ���smarter��� homes. Figure 1 is repre- sentative of many diagrams showing possible energy configurations in homes in the not-too-far-distant future. Figure 1 illustrates a number of relatively new affor- dances, some of which are already in use. The people living in this house can opt to use a ���smart thermostat��� that can communicate with the grid, with the option of remote management by network operators or third parties in order to balance supply and demand at any instant. They may control their energy usage remotely themselves, too ��� switching the central heating or the cooker on or off from work, or from the car. The real-time pricing signals from the home���s smart meter will ���create increased options��� for customers, who can choose tariffs that suit their daily consumption patterns, and may decide to alter their normal practices and behaviours in order to avoid high spot electricity prices. In this scenario, the home has become a site where electricity is generated as well as consumed (through solar photovoltaic panels on the roof). It has also become a means of managing the electricity system by a combination of the utility, the customer, and a set of appliances that communicate with each other and with the distribution network. The car has changed in nature, too, having become more than a means of transport: it stores and releases electri- city on demand when plugged into and controlled through the grid. What might these affordances mean in practice, and for whom? In spite of the references to personal needs and personal choice, most are presented essen- tially from the point of view of the controller of the electricity grid. As Costall (1995) points out, affor- dances do not cause behaviour, but they can constrain or control it and they can also enable it. In what ways is behaviour likely to be enabled or constrained in a ���smart home��� scenario, where there will be new, emer- gent effects, and what are the potential outcomes? The main offer to the householder appears to be auto- mation of some functions and the prospect of some form of time-varying electricity pricing, plus a degree Smart metering 443
Figure 1 A���smart home��� complete with an electric vehicle, smart appliances and thermostat, and remote controls. Source: Xcel energy, used by the UK Departmen t of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) at a public brie��ng,16 December 2009 Darby 444