Thursday, September 16, 2010

Post # 40: Dutch Report Suggests Smart Meters Are No Silver Bullet

A recently concluded Dutch study suggests that smart meters and similar home energy monitoring devices may not be the silver bullet that guarantees substantial reductions in home energy use. In particular, the report – entitled “Home Energy Monitors: Impact Over the Medium-Term and prepared by a research team from the Delft University of Technology concludes that initial savings may not be sustainable over the long term.

The study team examined the behaviors of households where “Home Energy Management Systems" – which the report defines as “intermediary devices that can visualize, monitor and/or manage domestic gas and/or electricity consumption” – had been installed on a trial basis. The goal was to see whether the participants sustained changes in electricity consumption over 15 months. In particular, the team wanted to find out if early reductions in energy consumption were continued over a longer period.

Participation in the study – and the required installation of the “HEMS” devices – was voluntary. The team monitored a total of 304 participants over four months, and then gave them the option of retaining the monitor. Those who kept the monitor were surveyed again 11 months later.

The findings showed that there were initial savings in electricity consumption of an average of 7.8% over the first four months, but these savings were not sustained over the medium to long term. At the same time, the study also found that some people were more receptive to energy saving behavior changes than others and quickly developed new habits, giving them continuing substantial savings.

The authors believe that that more research is needed not just into the design and usability of home monitoring devises, but also on social science issues and contextual factors. The basic conclusion: installing energy monitors alone will not necessarily reduce electricity consumption.

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