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Waste not, want not: Saving energy in a smart future

When it comes to energy, conspicuous wastefulness is a societal sin. More than half of the British public are concerned about their energy use and want to try to use less energy.

Not everyone wants to save energy for the same reasons. Consumers can be motivated by a variety of reasons, from a genuine concern for their carbon footprint, to societal pressure to be efficient, and of course the ever present desire to save money.

With the big six energy suppliers, as well as many smaller suppliers raising energy prices (some having done so twice this year), this financial incentive can be a powerful mechanism to encourage change … if the savings are visible.

Smart meters & behavioural change

A potential barrier for changing our energy saving behaviour is not being able to see what impact it has. Will turning my TV off, and not on standby really help the polar bear? How much money will I actually save by not using my tumble dryer?

One of the arguments supporting the government’s smart meter roll out programme is that smart meters will enable consumers to monitor their energy spend and use in real time. This could mean that consumers will become more aware of their energy use, which in turn will encourage them change their behaviour to become more efficient.

Does monitoring energy use mean behavioural change?

Smart meter owners who are using the smart meter as intended and regularly keeping track of their energy use are doing more to save energy – in fact, twice as much as those who don’t keep track. For them, the link between their own behaviour and the benefits of saving energy (such as their bill) is tangible, with the vast majority feeling that little changes can make big differences to their energy bill. Clearly for this group, there is a link between monitoring your energy use, and making changes to save energy.

Fig. 1 Average number of energy saving activities done by smart meter owners who Always keep track of energy use vs Do not always keep track of energy use

Fig. 2 Average number of energy saving activities done by smart meter owners who Always keep track of energy use vs Do not always keep track of energy use

Does the novelty of behavioural change wear off?

Like a child discarding their Christmas presents by February, one might expect smart meter customers to revert to their previous behaviours once the novelty of having a smart meter has worn off.

However, the majority of long-term smart meter owners are continuing to look for new ways to save energy. While new smart meter owners are the most keen to do more to save energy in the future, it is encouraging to see that even after a year or more of ownership, 6 in 10 still intend to do more.

Fig. 3 Intention to do more to save energy at home by length of time with a smart meter

Broadening behavioural change

Smart meters provide consumers with the opportunity to monitor their energy use, and can continue to encourage them to do more to save energy.

However, not all smart meter owners are diligent in keeping track of their energy use. Without keeping track, consumers have no way to accurately understand the impact of their behaviour on their bill, meaning the incentive to change their behaviour is diminished.

As the roll out of smart meters ramps up, the challenge will lie in providing adequate education on how to use a smart meter to track energy use, as well as the benefits that tracking can bring.

Commenting on the report, Robert Cheesewright, Director of Policy and Communications at Smart Energy GB, said:

“This report shows that households across Great Britain are really feeling the benefit of upgrading to a smart meter – something we see time and time again in our research.

“The majority of people in England, Scotland and Wales also intend to do more to save energy in the future and getting a free smart meter from your energy supplier will help this become a reality.”

You can read the full Smart Meters and Energy Usage report by downloading it via this link

Populus unlocks the critical knowledge needed to better understand consumer behaviour and decisions when it comes to energy. Find out more about our Solutions or contact us on +44 [0]20 7253 9900.


Populus interviewed 2005 GB adults between 17-24th November 2017 including a boost for Smart Meter users. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

Florence Douglas

Florence joined Populus in 2016 and has worked on a range of projects involving ad and brand trackers, event testing, new product development, product trials and usage and attitude testing. She particularly enjoys delivering projects that help clients overcome the challenges presented by changes in the law and new regulations. She holds a degree from the University of Sheffield and an MSt from the University of Oxford, both in Classical Archaeology.

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