The UK energy crisis has done more to change consumer energy behaviour than Smart Meters…

If you cut through the flim-flam about how to change the way people behave, then there’s an immutable truth, namely that the quickest way to change behaviour is to change the amount of money people have in their pocket!  It’s a hard-nosed reality that lifestyle for most people is determined by whether their money covers the overheads of living, or not. Governments, businesses, and even project managers all use the lever of money in our pockets to pursue their overall political, business, or delivery objectives. They use, for example, tax changes, bonuses, and overtime payments to powerfully incentivise the behavioural changes they need to meet their objectives in an expected timescale.

The UK energy crisis neatly illustrates how our behaviour changes when our pockets take a financial hit. The huge rise in consumer electricity and gas prices has already cut consumption by much more than 10%.  If the Badger household is typical, then this cut in consumption may be much greater than reported. It seems that our behaviour of energy wastefulness is being replaced by a welcome return to a more disciplined ethos, and that’s a good thing! Clearly the dramatic rise in electricity and gas prices has hit everyone in the pocket and quickly changed our energy behaviour for the better. In fact, being a little mischievous, the rises have done more to permanently change consumer energy behaviour in a year, than the UK’s Smart Meter programme and its Einstein advertisements have achieved in a decade.

Which takes us to the UK Smart Meter statistics update published a few days ago on 24th November 2022. It shows that there are still less than 50% of domestic homes with a Smart Meter installed and operating in smart mode. The installation rate remains, at best, broadly flat. On the current trajectory, the rollout’s revised 2024/2025 deadlines will be missed yet again. The adoption of Smart Meters, which primarily benefit energy providers, thus still has a long way to go before it materially embeds any significant change to consumer behaviour. It’s easy, therefore, to conclude that the energy crisis hit to consumer pockets has changed behaviour more and faster, and for the long term, than the rollout of Smart Meters. It’s also a solid reminder that the quickest way to change the behaviour of an individual, a team, a workforce, a community, or a population, is to do something that puts money into, or takes money out of, their pockets.

Finally, the energy crisis has exposed many flaws in UK energy policy and UK energy markets that go back at least two decades. The installed level of Smart Meters coupled with the paucity of their impact in materially changing consumer energy behaviour, simply adds weight to the feeling that this programme is another one of these flaws.

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