in Up Front
print the content item

Commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), research firm Ipsos MORI recently conducted a survey to gauge public awareness of and attitudes toward smart meters in the U.K.

The survey, the first installment of a three-part study, comprised 2,396 in-home, face-to-face interviews and revealed mixed results regarding the technology.


Nearly half (49%) of energy bill-payers living in the U.K. had heard of smart meters, with one in 20 (5%) claiming they have one installed. However, Ipsos notes that despite reading respondents a detailed description about the technology, the 5% ownership figure should be treated with some caution as, despite best efforts, some people could still be mistaken about the exact definition of a smart meter.

The analysis showed a number of demographic differences in terms of awareness of smart meters. Men were more likely to claim to have heard of smart meters (58% vs. 41% of women), but there was no significant difference concerning how many men and women actually have one installed.

Awareness of smart meters was lowest among younger adults; around a quarter of bill-payers aged 18-24 had heard of smart meters (27%). This rose steadily to around six in 10 aged 55-64 (61%) and 65-74 (58%) but dropped again among those aged 75+ (to 40%).

Those in the higher social classes were more aware, with around six in 10 (59%) in the highest social grades having heard of smart meters. A similar pattern emerged when looking at respondents’ highest education level achieved, with knowledge as low as 37% among those with no formal qualifications.

Homeowners were more aware than those living in rented accommodation; 56% had heard of smart meters compared to 37% living in rented accommodation. Those paying their electricity bills by Direct Debit were also more likely to have heard of smart meters (56%), as were those who did not have any children (52% vs. 43% with children).

The media and energy companies are the main sources of people’s awareness. Among those that had heard of smart meters, two in five people had heard about them through the media, either from a newspaper article (18%), on a news or current affairs program (17%) or simply on TV (3%) or the radio (2%). One in five respondents learned about smart meters through an energy company - mainly from their electricity supplier (17%), but also from their gas supplier (6%). “Word of mouth” was the next most popular medium, with almost one in five having heard of smart meters through a friend or relative. One in 20 had heard of smart meters from the government, with 2% specifically mentioning the DECC.

Support and perceptions

A third (32%) of respondents expressed support for the installation of smart meters in every home in the U.K., while one in five (20%) were opposed. Almost half (48%) of all respondents were undecided about smart meters.

Four in 10 (42%) of those without a smart meter in their home were interested in having one installed. Support for smart meters and interest in installation were both highly correlated to age and size of household, with younger and larger households expressing greater support and interest.

The perceived benefits of having a smart meter installed included being able to better manage household finances (33%), help avoid waste (26%) and produce a greater accuracy of billing (19%). Perceived disadvantages included cost (either to themselves, the taxpayer, the government or the energy companies) (19%) and data security (10%). Positively, the more respondents felt they knew about smart meters, the more likely they were to support their rollout and want one.

The study shows a clear relationship between knowledge and support, with the most knowledgeable also the most likely to support smart meters; two-thirds who claimed to know a great deal about smart meters supported having a unit installed in every home (66%) - dropping to a quarter (26%) among those who had only heard of but knew nothing about them.

There were also a number of demographic differences in terms of support. Middle-aged respondents (aged 35-44) were most likely to support the installation of smart meters (39%), whereas opposition was highest among those aged 75+ (25%).

Other demographic groups which were more likely than average to support the installation of smart meters included families with children; almost four in 10 bill-payers with at least one child were in favor (37% vs. 30% with no children), and support was even higher in families with younger children (40% for families with children aged 0-3, and 44% for families with children aged 4-5). Support was also higher among those who claimed to be concerned about climate change (35% vs. 27% unconcerned) and was notably higher among those who claimed to have a smart meter (50%).

Owner/occupiers were more likely to be opposed to the idea, with 22% opposed compared to 16% of those living in rented accommodation. Respondents were split in terms of their interest in having a smart meter installed in the near future. Four in ten bill-payers who did not have a smart meter were at least fairly interested in having one installed (42%); more than half would currently not be interested (54%), with just over a quarter (28%) “not interested at all.”

Respondents who claimed to have a smart meter were broadly positive about their experience of the appointment and installation process, as well as about their overall experience of using the smart meter - around half were satisfied with all three factors.

Only a minority were unsatisfied with these experiences: 4% for arranging the appointment, 5% for the installation and 8% for the overall experience of using the smart meter. The report notes the high proportion of respondents who expressed neither satisfaction nor dissatisfaction is likely to be due to over-claim in terms of smart meter ownership.

While a majority (61%) were able to spontaneously name a benefit of having a smart meter installed in their home, only a minority (40%) were able to spontaneously name a disadvantage.

The main concerns about smart meters were related to cost (19%) - either for the respondents, themselves, through higher energy bills, for the energy companies, for taxpayers or for the government. There was also concern that the data would be misused in some way (10%), that the smart meter would be difficult to use (7%) and that it would be inconvenient to have the meter installed (6%).

Different demographic groups had slightly different concerns, reflecting their wider priorities. Cost was a bigger worry for those aged 25-34, where a quarter (25%) mentioned this factor as a disadvantage.

Middle-aged respondents were the most worried about data security, with 17% aged 35-44 and 14% aged 45-54 mentioning this concern. However, only 1% of those aged 18-24 and 5% of older bill-payers aged 75+ were worried about data security.

In addition, the eldest respondents (aged 75+) were most likely to think that smart meters would be “difficult to understand” (12% vs. 7% overall).

Hybrid Energy Innovations

Hybrid Energy Innovations 2015
Latest Top Stories

To Help Combat Costly Electricity Theft, Emerging Markets Turn To Smart Grid Infrastructure

According to a new report, the world loses a whopping $89.3 billion to electricity theft annually, and emerging country markets are feeling a majority of the pain.

Report: Utilities Face Big Revenue Cuts From Distributed Energy Resources

According to a new report from Accenture, the growth of solar and other resources, such as energy storage, could mean significant losses for utilities.

NextEra To Acquire Hawaiian Electric In $4.3 Billion Merger Deal

If approved, the agreement between the two energy companies would produce one of North America's largest renewable energy players.

EPA Racks Up Over 1.6 Million Comments On Carbon Pollution Plan

Months after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its Clean Power Plan, which will create new regulations for existing power plants, the agency says it has received loads of feedback to consider.

Smart Grid Interest Continues To Spread Among U.S. Rural Utilities

A new survey gauges rural smart grid efforts across the country and offers key findings, one of which is that nearly all utilities polled are doing something to modernize their systems.

Hybrid Energy Innovations 2015