Knowledge is power when it comes to energy efficiency

Centrica - Knowledge is power when it comes to energy efficiency

Today’s guest blog comes from Jorge Pikunic, Managing Director of Smart Metering at British Gas.

Jorge focuses on a recent EU directive to reduce energy use by banning certain high-powered household electrical items, arguing that instead, giving people information is what is needed to help them take control of their energy consumption.

Jorge Pikunic, Managing Director of Smart Metering, British Gas:

Recent news of EU proposals to ban some household electrical items to improve energy efficiency prompted strong responses from a nation worried that our toasters, kettles and lawnmowers were headed for the scrapheap. Newspapers reported that sales of some powerful vacuum cleaners rocketed ahead of new EU rules taking effect.

An alternative to the energy efficiency challenge we face is to focus on understanding exactly how much gas and electricity we use in our homes. If you know what you’re using, you can decide for yourself the best way to be canny about your energy use, and then think about whether there are appliances you need to replace. Equally, you might realise you actually already use far less energy than you thought – in which case, good on you.

Budgets in many homes across the country are tight. For many, simply understanding energy use and its cost, and being able to make informed choices, could mean savings on energy bills.

And yet, how many of us are able to interpret the kilowatt hours currently displayed on our gas and electricity statements? I’m sure most of us have no idea how much electricity our vacuum cleaner or hair dryer uses, and why would we? Our electricity meters are hidden away under the stairs and energy bills don’t break down use by appliance.

That’s the crux of the problem. When it comes to energy, we can’t expect people to make their own decisions about whether their kettle needs an upgrade to be more efficient, or the difference to bills of boiling enough water for just one cuppa, if we don’t have basic information on our energy use in the first place.

Imagine if you could see how much you are using and spending on gas and electricity in your home, in pounds and pence, as you use it. That’s one of the benefits with the smart meter roll-out that’s already seen over a million smart meters installed in homes around the country by British Gas. They represent the biggest change to energy in our homes since central heating in the 1970s. If that sounds a bit dramatic, that’s because in the world of energy, having this level of information on your energy use is nothing short of a revolution.

Smart meters display this information in near real-time on a smart energy monitor placed anywhere in the home, so you can literally see your energy as you use it, and the impact of boiling the kettle over and over again, or leaving the lights blazing around your home. Another benefit of smart meters is that meter readings are shared with your energy supplier automatically, so you’ll never need to submit a meter reading to receive an accurate bill again. Suddenly, those gas and electricity statements begin to make a lot more sense.

Energy use is personal to each home; we can’t take a one size fits all approach to energy consumption. With smart meters people can make informed decisions to suit their lifestyle rather than being told to not buy certain appliances.

A good example of this is Energy Saving Trust research showing our use of tumble dryers in the summer months is costing British families at least £120m a year, with more than half of all households using theirs at least once a week in summer. The research found a typical household could save £18 annually by using the washing line more instead. Yet how would those families know how much energy they could save? My guess is they wouldn’t. With no tools to inform them of where the energy is going it’s extremely difficult to change our daily habits. A ban on tumble dryers would go down pretty badly. But understanding how you could use them differently to save you money and be more energy efficient? Surely that’s a win/win.

Again, that’s where smart meters will help. But at this early stage of the roll-out we need to find out more about how households are using them. In my team, we’re working on a Smart Meter Challenge with fifteen UK homes of different shapes and sizes to understand in greater detail what smart meters can do for them. They have each had smart meters fitted in their homes and are completing a series of challenges to see how having smart meters changes their energy behaviour.

We have already seen some fascinating insights from week one of the challenge. The majority of homes said they feel they have little control over their energy use, ranking it 3/10 where 10 indicates complete control. In contrast, they ranked feeling in control over mortgage payments as 8.5/10. But the appetite to take control is very apparent. Many of the households are already doing small things to reduce their energy usage, such as keeping doors shut to conserve heat and having their homes insulated. But many were unsure of what more they could do.

It seems then, that giving people information is what is needed to help them take control.

That is the key to energy efficiency. We should capitalise on the nation’s clear desire to know more information about their lives and give it to them. Knowledge is power. And in the case of smart meters, hopefully knowledge means less use of power in the home.

If you’d like to learn more about the challenge, British Gas will be sharing its progress each week here, or, you can follow it on twitter #smartmeterchallenge.

Want to know more about smart meters? Visit our website.


Jorge Pikunic is the Managing Director of Smart Metering at British Gas.Previously Head of Group Strategy at Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, he joined Centrica in 2010 from McKinsey & Company, where he advised energy utilities and oil and gas companies on strategy and sustainability issues. Jorge holds an MSc and a PhD in Chemical Engineering from North Carolina State University