September 8, 2010 / 12:06 AM / 9 years ago

Smart meters alone may not save much energy -study

* Study shows initial energy savings decrease over time

* Behaviour, routines need to change to make meters effective

By Nina Chestney

LONDON, Sept 8 (Reuters Life!) - Smart meters to boost energy efficiency in homes do not automatically achieve a significant reduction in energy demand, research showed on Wednesday.

Smart meters record energy or water consumption and send the readings back to the utility for monitoring and billing.

It is hoped that consumers will save energy through increased awareness of how much they use and that estimated bills will be eliminated.

Previous studies have shown that smart meters encourage homeowners to cut their energy use by 3 to 15 percent, but researchers said consumers also need educating about energy use.

Two scientific papers published in the September issue of the publication Building Research and Information showed the technology alone is not enough to deliver significant domestic energy savings.

In her paper, Sarah Darby at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford examined how householders used feedback on their energy consumption with and without smart meters. She found that a reduction in energy demand “did not flow naturally from improved billing information”.

“There is the potential to use (advanced metering infrastructure) for demand reduction if there is a strong strategic intention to do so, and if the social support is there,” she said in the paper. In a separate study, academics at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands trialled domestic energy meters with 304 participants over four months.

At the end of the trial, participants were given the option to keep the meter and were surveyed again 11 months later.

The academics found that initial savings in electricity consumption of 7.8 percent after four months could not be sustained in the medium to long term.

“Participants who kept the monitor (...) did not manage to sustain their electricity savings any better than those without a monitor,” they said.

“A second finding is that certain groups of people seem more receptive to energy-saving interventions than others. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for home energy monitors cannot be justified,” they added.

In Britain, the coalition government wants utilities to install smart electricity meters in all British homes before a 2020 deadline imposed by the previous Labour government.

Last year, consultancy firm the Brattle Group estimated that the European Union would spend 51 billion euros ($65.65 billion) on smart meters by 2020 with savings of between 26 billion and 41 billion euros. (Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Anthony Barker)

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