21st Century Green Fingers: renewable and energy-saving smart technology in homes

Just like the word ‘apple’ conjures up the image of both the fruit and the technology company, could it be that – in the not so distant future – ‘green fingers’ will not only refer to a person’s skill at growing plants but also their engagement with green technology? At Accent, we are working on a growing number of research projects aimed at understanding human-technology interaction in the context of domestic energy use. Opportunities for consumers to be pro-actively involved in energy saving and generating renewable energy are increasingly common. It is now possible for many consumers to harness the opportunity of new technologies to help them either reduce their energy use or generate and store their own renewable energy. However, the question remains whether these technologies will be successfully adopted.

By far the most significant development in terms of the number of domestic consumers reached is the government-mandated rollout of smart meters. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (@beisgovuk) has committed to installing smart meters in all domestic properties by 2020 for those who want them. Accent conducts monitoring research on the installation process. This shows a high level of satisfaction with this initial stage of engagement which includes receiving demonstrations of how smart meters work and being offered energy saving information.

Less encouragingly, recent figures from the Netherlands indicate that the potential benefits of smart meters hinge on access to and engagement with ‘live’ feedback from an in-home display (FD, 2016). Smart meters were initially expected to save 3.5% of household energy consumption, but recent figures suggest that the actual savings are no more than 1%. The reliance on bi-monthly feedback on usage and low uptake of in-home displays, which can provide real-time feedback, were identified as the main culprits.

In another study Accent conducted for one of the #Big6 energy suppliers, we found no straightforward relationship between using an in-home display and energy saving behaviours. This finding may not be entirely unsurprising, as the consumer first needs to regularly monitor their energy usage through an in-home display to get timely feedback on their usage. They then also need to understand how, and be willing, to adapt their usage based on the feedback. Both steps not only require knowledge and skill, but also a positive attitude towards engaging with the new technology and energy saving more generally.
In the case of domestic renewable energy technologies, consumer engagement can be even more complex. Although the technology is usually installed and maintained by professionals, consumers need to be willing to adopt the technology, which may require a substantial financial investment and changes in the home environment. For instance, the vulnerability of the solar panel market became very apparent when UK subsidy cuts in 2016 were followed by a sharp drop in demand for household rooftop solar panels (Guardian, 2016).

At Accent, we are following the latest developments in smart and domestic renewable technologies with a keen eye. Their success will depend on how they are brought to market, and ultimately, consumer willingness to adopt these technologies.

For more information on Accent’s research on #SmartTechnology and #RenewableEnergy, please contact Siu Hing Lo via info@accent-mr.com

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