Why people don’t trust energy-saving gadgets

Consumers who most need the cost savings are the least accepting of smart energy technologies marketed as cost-savers, says Alexa Spence. "This may partly be due to lower levels of trust in this group: people concerned about costs may also be less likely to own their homes, less likely to be able to afford any upfront investment that might be required, and may be distrusting of the payback that DSM might offer." (Credit: wjkoh/Flickr)

People’s reluctance to share data about their energy use is likely to stand in the way of “smart” technology designed to promote energy efficiency, experts say.

A study, published online in Nature Climate Change, finds that while more than half of people quizzed would be willing to reduce their personal energy consumption, some were wary about sharing their information with third parties.

Increasing energy efficiency and encouraging flexible energy use are integral parts of plans to reduce the UK’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

Devices like smart meters, for example, transmit information about energy usage from the demand- or customer-side to energy companies.

This information can then be used to develop and implement more energy efficient practices. However, it is unclear how UK consumers feel about the benefits of these types of technology, called “demand-side management” or DSM.

The research team, led by Alexa Spence in the University of Nottingham’s Horizon Digital Economy Research institute and School of Psychology, analyzed responses to an online survey of 2,441 UK residents and found that most participants (58 percent) said they were willing to reduce their personal energy use.

However, approximately one-fifth of survey respondents said they would be uncomfortable sharing data about their personal energy use with any outside party.

Cost concern irony

Those concerned about climate change were more likely to accept DSM, while those concerned about the cost of energy were less likely to accept various DSM scenarios, including timed shut-offs for electronic devices and allowing electricity network operators to make decisions about the most efficient times of day to run appliances like washing machines and fridge-freezers.

People concerned about the cost of energy were also more reluctant to share their energy data and this partly explained their lower acceptance of DSM.

The results suggest that to encourage public acceptance of DSM, the government should emphasize the environmental benefits and allay concerns about the policies increasing the cost of energy.

Consumers who most need the cost savings are the least accepting of smart energy technologies marketed as cost-savers, says Spence.

“This may partly be due to lower levels of trust in this group: people concerned about costs may also be less likely to own their homes, less likely to be able to afford any upfront investment that might be required, and may be distrusting of the payback that DSM might offer,” says Spence.

The study was a collaboration with colleagues from Cardiff University, the University of Exeter, and the University of York.

The work is part of the UK Energy Research Centre program and was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Additional support came from Horizon Digital Economy Research, RCUK grant, and from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Source: University of Nottingham