Will smart meters help save energy?


Electricity consumption in American homes has dropped for the third year in a row and is already back to 2001 levels, according to a study by the US Energy Information Administration. This, the experts say, is down to more efficient gadgets and homes that are cheaper to insulate, according to the telegraph.co.uk

The UK seems to be doing well too – Google's interactive chart of public data shows a significant drop in consumption since our all-time high in 2005 – but it's tough to discover the truth about electricity use in the home. Organisations like the Energy Saving Trust continue to freak us out about our loft linings and draughty windows, and the various Government schemes that promised us huge savings have come under fire for their overblown promises.

Even the industry supplying electricity to our homes doesn't seem to know how we're doing… or isn't telling us the full story. We're bombarded with stories about the looming energy gap, with frequent scheduled blackouts allegedly the only way to save us. Apparently, we all need giant batteries in our homes to store enough energy to power our homes during peak times.

So which is it? Is consumption falling, or is our network about to collapse under the strain? Are our fancy new devices sipping less power from the grid than ever, or has the digital revolution turned us all into power junkies, desperate for our next charge? Is it really our fault, or should we be focusing somewhere else, like inefficient and power-hungry businesses?

One thing should help – the advent of smart energy meters. By 2020 all homes will have a smart meter, allowing all of us to see our energy use and manage bills and payments much more easily. The meters themselves will be connected to the internet thanks to mobile deals with Arqiva and Telefonica, meaning data on energy consumption will be far more centralised, available, and up to date.

Smart homes are already hot news. Last week, Google bought connected thermostat and smoke detector company Nest for more than $3bn, suggesting that our homes are the new frontier for technology innovation (and the revenue that goes with it). Every day a new Kickstarter project pops up, promising motion-sensing plugs that know which room we're in, or rings that allow our door locks to recognise our fingers and unlock automatically.

But the real advantage of the smart home isn't being able to turn on the heating from your smartphone or never having to carry a door key. Properly connected homes – where the less flashy devices in the house are connected to the web – are going to allow us to get a decent view of the energy we're using for the first time.

As we get smarter about our own energy use, will all the scaremongering turn out to be a load of hot air?