Almost a year ago, the UK government began a roll out of smart meters with millions already installed in homes. The goal is to have one in every home by 2020, but researchers at the University of Bath say that the meters that are being used fall short of what is needed to help homeowners monitor and reduce their energy consumption.
The research team has developed their own smart meter that they've tested in 47 homes and that they say has led to a 22 percent savings in gas consumption by the users.
The iBert intelligent smart meter is different than a standard smart meter which typically just reports the energy consumption of the household. The iBert goes beyond that to also make recommendations to the users about how to save money based on their pattern of energy usage over the past week.
The collection of sensors in the iBert allow the meter to predict what the building is made out of, how much energy is being wasted through open windows, the heat being on when the house is empty and electronics and appliances being left on when not in use. The meter builds a thermal model of the building and its occupants to find patterns of wasted energy.
The University of Bath explains, "For example, if a home owner's central heating stayed on until 10am each day despite the house being unoccupied by 8am, the device would calculate the amount of money being wasted and suggest the home owner adjust their heating clock to 8am. Instead of just relying on monetary waste as a motivational factor, the system can also "speak" in non-monetary units such as loss of tree cover, tons of carbon or cost to society - thus aligning itself to differently motivated households."
The users can access their energy use data and personalized recommendations on a computer or through a smartphone app. The communicating of behavior changes and their benefits along with a variety of motivators makes it far more effective than just showing the data alone.
“Through this extensive study, we have shown our design to be highly successful in significantly reducing household energy usage and bills," said Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology, Dr Ian Walker. “By presenting energy data clearly, we have proven it is possible to improve home owners’ energy literacy and in doing so, better understand how to change their energy behavior and reduce their energy bills.”
We've mentioned before that in order for smart meters and energy management software to work, it has to speak a language that people understand, namely money, and make it clear and convenient how to make the necessary lifestyle changes to reduce a home's environmental impact. This research shows that it takes more than just slapping smart meters on homes. The delivery of the information it collects has to be intelligent too.