Study finds opposition to invasive smart technologies designed to save energy at home, but support for some less intrusive and automated measures
People concerned about climate change are more likely to accept technology that saves energy at home, such as utilities turning off their fridge remotely. Photograph: Steven Errico/Getty Images
Last modified on Monday 27 April 2015 17.37 BST
British consumers do not trust energy companies to control their fridges and other home appliances in order to save energy, according to research published on Monday.More than 40% of respondents rejected the idea of energy companies turning off their fridge for short periods at times of peak electricity demand or choosing when their boiler heats their water.
Less than a third thought these measures acceptable, according to the study in the journal Nature Climate Change, which also found around a fifth of respondents were unwilling to share their household energy use with the government or energy companies.
A range of technologies known as demand-side management (DSM) have been suggested for managing home energy use, and smoothing out the peaks and troughs of energy demand on the national grid.
While handing over control and information to the energy companies proved unpopular, about 80% of the 2,441 people surveyed for the study said that they would be happy to have appliances that automatically switched off after they had been on standby for an extended period. The UK government estimates that devices on standby mode account for around 5% of household power use.
In general, said study author Dr Alexa Spence, a researcher at the University of Nottingham, the acceptance of some level of DSM was higher than she had expected.
The survey found that those who were concerned about climate change were more likely to accept technology that micro-manages their home.
“We know that people are highly concerned about climate change. For me it’s interesting that people are making that link between demand-side management and mitigating climate change. They’re not necessarily seeing it as high-tech gadgetry and they are linking it with energy efficiency and environmental aspects,” said Spence.
Reducing home energy consumption is a key plank in combating climate change and cutting household bills. One barrier to the take up of renewable energy is its intermittent nature that does not always marry up with times of peak energy demand. One way to get around this problem is to enable or encourage consumers to use power during off-peak hours.
Matt Knight, an energy expert at the Energy Saving Trust, said: “Demand-side management is important if we are to secure a low carbon energy system for the future. Renewable energy is intermittent and householders use energy in intermittent ways. If we can use energy as it’s being produced, store it when it’s not needed and shut down household appliances when people are at work or in bed then we can squeeze every ounce out of clean energy.”
Spence said one unexpected result of the survey was that many who are concerned about the affordability of electricity will also be unwilling to accept DSM. This could prove to be a significant barrier to the technology’s adoption, she said. Energy Saving Trust research shows that three quarters of British people are worried about energy bills.
Spence said some those who were already struggling with the price of electricity might be concerned about the upfront costs of installing new gadgets. But she also said those who were in a financially precarious position may be more likely to harbour scepticism over the usage of the data.
“I think a lot of people don’t necessarily perceive benefits for themselves. And I think among some people there are questions over who will actually benefit. Whether its the energy companies who will benefit rather than the individual,” he said.
“It tends to be people who most need to save energy are the people less willing to actually uptake [DSM] because they don’t trust that their data will be used to help them and they might feel that they’ll just be exploited by providing that data.”
Knight said energy companies would have to work hard to earn the trust of consumers if they were to implement some of the more invasive measures.