Europe Smart Meter Rollout - Turn Customer Disillusionment And Risk into Opportunity, says Opower

By proactively engaging customers and fostering active participation, the true value of smart meters can be realized.
Published: Thu 05 Mar 2015

By 2020, Europe aims to install 240 million smart meters, costing the region €56 billion. Ultimately the customer will foot the bill so it is therefore critical that they are benefitting from the device, says Emily Hallet, Associate Director of Solutions Marketing, EMEA, Opower, who is a co-presenter in Engerati’s webinar Don’t Leave Your Customers Behind – Learn how to Unlock Smart Meter Value for Consumers.

Tackling expectations and disillusions around smart meters

Hallet says that the European region has huge hopes for what the smart grid can mean for the energy world of Europe - including advanced views of home energy management, load control and automation. However, looking across other countries with more mature smart meter programmes and similar goals, many such hopes have yet to fully materialize.

She adds that there are also big expectations about what the smart meter rollout can mean for Europe’s ambition to achieve a low carbon economy, a major focus across the region. But, there are also early signs that consumers may be becoming disillusioned with the smart meter rollout plans, with privacy and control seeming to be major factors in their possible discontent. In the Netherlands for instance, the smart grid rollout was delayed for several years due to concerns around privacy. If left unaddressed such concerns can stall programmes, even though this region has much to gain from smart meters since many meters are still only read once every three years, explains Hallet.

Due in part to consumers’ concerns around privacy and the complexity of such a massive infrastructure project, it looks like some aspects of European smart meter rollout are no longer on track to meet their original schedule. Says Hallet, “Right now we are seeing some early signs of overhype and disillusionment that are coming up before we reach a much higher level of deployment and adoption.”

A voting poll, which was undertaken by webinar attendees during the live presentation, echoes Hallet’s sentiments. The poll results showed that most (54.8%) believed that Europe is in the inflated expectations stage and 32% felt that the region was disillusioned with smart meters.

Making Europe’s smart meter rollout a success

Central to the European Commission’s plans is energy savings. The European Commission has proposed a 20% savings by 2020 and 30% for 2030.

By harnessing consumption data effectively and using personalised, proactive communication to consumers in which their energy usage is clearly explained, utilities can get customers to make significant and sustained changes to their energy consumption behaviour.

It is important that utilities focus on the customer benefits side of the smart grid equation, explains Hallet. It is critical to achieve and visibly communicate household energy savings in order to both meet regulatory goals and to share the value of smart meters with end users too. For retailers to gain full value, they need to use such engagement to deliver improvements to the customer relationship which will in turn help deliver a drop in customer churn, and enhance cross sales of new energy related services and products. It is imperative that utilities choose the right platforms to accompany their smart meter programmes and focus on providing simple, helpful energy consumption advice to the customers so as to build the right type of relationship, explains Hallet.

Hallet points to a number of lessons learn from across smart meter programmes when it comes to effectively engaging with the customer:

  • It takes a lot to capture and maintain consumers’ attention around energy since for many of them energy is a low interest topic. Programmes must be made interesting and easy, as well as relevant to the customer. "This kind of engagement is a journey. Build a base level relationship first in order to engage with the consumer, before rolling out smart meters. As we've learnt from our work with utilities in other parts of the world, customer engagement is key for smart meter acceptance and those programmes that do not engage the customer risk reducing their impact, or worst case scenario, programme failure." She adds that people like to hear about themselves, how they compare to other home owners, and how they can save in general so it is important to pay more attention to individual circumstances. Personalised insight will capture and hold their attention.

  • Analytics isn’t always enough. Effective and compelling customer communications are critical since these can lead to sustained behavioural changes which will help to achieve the final goal. Knowing what communication channel to use is also critical (paper, digital, voice). “Utilities should get to understand the various customer segments and how best to communicate with them.”

  • Loyalty requires engagement. Research shows that high customer engagement leads to a lower churn rate. Compelling smart meter experiences can help to reduce churn substantially. This was made evident in the case of Mercury Energy in New Zealand which took part in our webinar, Engerati webinar How Energy Consumer Engagement Build Competitive Advantage.

Hallet points out that if European retailers get it right, they can use the smart meter rollout to strengthen existing customer relationships by building on trust and loyalty.

In another interactive poll, webinar attendees agreed that in order to get the smart meter rollout right in Europe, effective communication of insights (not just data) is necessary (43%). 29% said that an ongoing customer engagement is needed to build loyalty, and 27% said that it was important to capture customers’ initial attention.

According to Hallet, all these elements are required for a successful smart meter rollout across the region.