It’s Utopia, Jim, But Not As You Were Told It Would Be

Richard Bloss of CRT Partnership asks why energy companies don’t give us what we want since they have all the information, right?
Published: Fri 24 Apr 2015

We live in an age of consumer information - as evidenced by the increasing number of calls we receive from strangers to sell us things that we know we don’t need even though their data tells them otherwise.

The fact is that somehow, and despite the evidence, we as consumers believe that this extra information and element of choice we receive via various communication channels is ultimately for our benefit. Whole e-commerce industries have been spawned as a result.

Consumers’ role underestimated

If 2014 was the year that everybody was talking about smart metering, then surely 2015 will be the year that everybody will be adopting it?

Smart metering, we are told, is about reducing our energy consumption and bills, even changing our global energy suppliers. Goodness knows we need to. When it comes to energy consumption and climate change, most consumers understand that things have to change and it is up to us to drive this.

Unfortunately, not many energy suppliers understand the critical role that consumers play when it comes to energy efficiency. This is evident in the fact that at last year’s Utilities Big Data Conference in London, energy company representatives were not from the commercial, marketing or media areas of their business. There was no apparent interest in consumer engagement. There was, however, every interest in burst water pipes and whose fault it is when the pipe bursts.

In fact down in my part of the world, the local Council are still arguing over who has responsibility for repairing the flow of water that for the past two years has been happily running down the street on my walk to work each morning.

The reality of consumer engagement - all mouth, no action?

Don’t be fooled by utility press releases stating that they have “regional smart energy” districts, are showing “great interest” in lowering office and retail energy consumption, and are forming great new “alliances” of big companies, to carry out “big projects”.

No-one at my local gas supplier showed any interest at all when I telephoned them to order a smart controller with my new boiler. In fact, no-one seemed to know what I was requesting. This is all too redolent of those university-based projects that deliver notional value and great theory but that value somehow not reaching grassroots level-the consumer.

The reason for this is pretty obvious - it is in no-one’s interest for us to spend less, or consume less energy, apart from our own. This is a great pity because much can be achieved through effective consumer behavioural change.

So, my question is this: what are we as consumers going to do about it?

The answer may be simpler than I thought. Maybe the energy companies should fix a deal with the local supermarket as they do with petrol prices. Buy £50 worth of cabbages and get a free smart controller. That will get the crowds moving for sure.

Richard Bloss is CEO of the CRT Partnership identifying smart projects in Europe.