Consumers are more empowered than ever before, with new technologies and routes to market in nearly every sector. But there’s one area in which it feels like we’re still firmly in the early 20th century: the way we buy and use gas and electricity.
None of us would dream of calling our mobile phone company to tell them how many minutes we’ve used, and we’d all be pretty baffled if we were presented with an estimated bill at the supermarket checkout – as these consumers were (see video below) when we did just that.
And we expect to be able to shop around easily, which means having accurate energy usage data so we can compare prices easily.
But in energy, most consumers are still in the dark – with a traditional analogue meter ticking away under the stairs in kilowatt hours – and this has had a profound impact on the energy market.
Despite cheaper fixed-rate deals available from energy suppliers, currently around 70% of consumers are still on a ‘default’ standard variable tariff, and few shop around.
In the provisional findings of its investigation into the energy market, the government’s competition body, the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) points to several issues the energy sector needs to address: a lack of awareness of the tariffs available; confusing and inaccurate bills; and the real and perceived difficulties of changing suppliers. Senior figures identified smart meters as an essential step to empowering and engaging consumers.
By 2020, energy suppliers will have offered everyone in England, Wales and Scotland the opportunity to upgrade their gas and electricity meters to smart meters at no additional cost. Smart meters will bring an end to estimated bills and show consumers what they’re spending in pounds and pence via a handheld smart meter display.
Smart meters will allow suppliers to offer a range of new tariffs in the future which react to individual households’ and businesses’ lifestyles and needs.
In the longer-term, the rollout will secure energy supply for British businesses by enabling accurate management of energy generation and usage across the country.
Smart Energy GB is the national consumer campaign for Britain’s smart meter rollout