Sunday, August 06, 2006

Bringing meters out of the closet

There are growing calls for gas and electricity meters to be dusted off, brought out from the cupboard underneath the stairs, and given pride of place in people's living rooms and kitchens.

Advocates of so-called "smart meters" say the information provided by the devices can revolutionise the way households consume energy, and can reduce demand by up to 10%.

The domestic sector in the UK is responsible for about one-third of the nation's carbon emissions, and the government has become increasingly focused on the need for greater energy efficiency in the nation's homes.

Tony Blair on Tuesday gave business leaders a sneak preview of the government's energy review.

He said the twin aims of cutting harmful emissions and improving security of supplies meant that "a step-change in energy efficiency" was "back on the agenda with a vengeance".

The electricity and gas consumer council, otherwise known as Energywatch, says smart meters are vital if these goals are to be realised.

"People do get a lot of messages about energy and the consequences to the environment," says Energywatch's head of campaigns, Jonathan Stearn.

"But the one key link that is missing is the ability for consumers to know how much energy they are using.

"At the moment, there is a box underneath the stairs which they cannot make head nor tail of because it is all in kilowatt hours, and a quarterly bill that may or may not mean anything to them."

"If people do not have any idea how much energy they are using, how can you expect them to change their behaviour?"

Smart move

"Smart meters" is a catch-all phrase used to describe a new generation of devices that have a range of extra functions, unlike existing "dumb meters" that only measure gross gas and electricity consumption in a home.

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