How does engagement in information change behaviours – lessons for Smart Meters and Smart Grids

Published: Thu 29 Oct 2015
A blog entry by Peter King

Contributed by:

Peter King
Vice President

Peter King's Blog

Think back to the last time that information changed your behaviour:  You might have seen the price of an phone in a shop and bought the version with 32GB rather than 128GB, you might have chosen your current car based on its fuel efficiency, or you might have realised that you’re spending far too much in restaurants and decided to eat at home more. Now think of all of those times that the information had no impact on your behaviour: You bought petrol on the motorway even though you knew it was more expensive, you made a phone call at peak times when it could have been deferred, or you habitually buy the more expensive branded can of beans because you had greater trust in the product. 
Understanding how information changes our behaviour is fundamental to the business case that underpins Smart Meters and to some extent Smart Grids. The current assumption is that by seeing your energy usage you will make the decision to use less energy, and hence save yourself money and hence save the planet.  
My argument is that the difference between the decisions made in light of the information (where you did something different) and the decisions made despite the information (where you carried on regardless) is engagement.  
Engagement is the level of interaction you have with the information at the point at which it could be of use to you.  On the motorway you didn’t care about the information, you needed fuel and the risk of running out in the fast lane was real, so you filled up anyway. In the shop you engaged with the price of the phone and made a decision based on price and features. 
Unfortunately energy does not have features that are evident to us as users, it’s either on or off.  So all we are left to engage with is the cost at the point of usage. Now if the price doesn’t change much, like your tin of beans, there’s even less to engage with. Smart Meters face a difficult challenge, how to engage? 
The answer to this engaging has been through the In Home Unit (IHU), but experience of home energy monitoring – shows that it is interesting for a few weeks, but soon sits in the corner gathering dust.  
The answer lies in new models for our energy utilities. Companies that adopt models that naturally engage people will be more successful; utilities should engage with consumers as energy service providers rather than billing engines, they must find ways to engage with consumers, through initiatives such as community energy, and they must develop models that meet the needs of prosumers who are generating and controlling their own energy. 
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Blog By: 
Peter King 
Vice President – Utilities, Capgemini Consulting