Monday 11 February 2013

Smart metering could be of more value to plebs than professionals

Who benefits most when utility companies replace existing gas and electric meters with what is becoming known as "smart meters"?  These new meters are the next generation of meters, which can offer a range of benefits for both the individual electricity and gas consumer and for the electricity and gas systems in general. 

For consumers, I guess the principal issue is whether their introduction will result in financial savings, by reducing consumption of gas and electricity.

The answer, at least from a pilot study carried out in Ireland in 2011, is evidently yes. On average, the saving could amount to 2.9%. Naturally, some people will save more than others. But surprisingly (to me at least), those who are likely to save the most don’t belong to social classes A and B. 

According to the report: “Participants with the highest and lowest education and social grade education are least likely to reduce usage. This may reflect motivation (among those with AB social grade) and communication (among those with lower social grades C2 and DE). While efforts were made in the communications strategy to be inclusive, the difference may reflect more fundamental barriers to engagement among those with lower levels of educational achievement.” 

Marketing professionals will be aware that social class A contains the upper middle classes (higher managerial administrative or professional people), while class B contains the middle classes (intermediate managerial, administrative or professional people). Such people only saved some €13.27 during the year-long trial. Less than anyone else. 

Their savings were trumped by those from social class C1 (the supervisory or clerical and junior managerial, administrative or professional staff), who saved 25.07. They were also trumped by those in social classes D &E (the casual or lowest grade workers, pensioners and others who depend on the welfare state for their income) who saved €18.22. And they were even trumped by the skilled manual workers (the C2 class) who saved €16.42. 

So, while I’m expecting that the professional classes will create more of a fuss about ensuring the data protection aspects of any smart metering programme fully comply with any regulation that can be thrown at it, those who may ultimately stand to benefit most from the process will be the plebs, who deserve an equal opportunity to get fully engaged in the relevant data protection debates. 
Smart Metering Information Paper: Gas Customer Behaviour Trial Findings Report CER11180a, published by the Commission for Energy Regulation, October 2011.