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University Switched On To Reducing Energy Poverty

Low income householders in Northern Ireland may soon be able to monitor their energy use and reduce bills, following the first trial of ‘Smart’ meters carried out by the University of Ulster.

The meters, which provide customers with a real-time display of the electricity they are consuming, were installed into 56 homes across Northern Ireland for a period of 12 months.

Professor Christine Liddell from the School of Psychology led the project, which was commissioned by the Utility Regulator.

She said: “Smart meters have much more potential than previously thought for customers vulnerable to the impacts of fuel poverty. Provided they are introduced with a good level of customer care and support, they are readily accepted and soon become an essential part of many customers’ energy-related activities. These consumers required very little extra service, beyond an informed and patient meter installer who leaves behind an IHD (in-house display) unit that is easy to use – a requirement for any customer.

“It is perhaps possible that the standards these customers have responded to with enthusiasm are the same standards as customers from every walk of life would find helpful.

“Following the trial most customers now view a Smart meter as an essential budgeting tool in their home. The meters had helped resolve distressing puzzles for them including de-mystifying electricity use and given customers a greater sense of control and choice about how they managed their electricity spending.

“However, having a Smart meter did not always translate into savings, some customers decided they had saved enough during the week or fortnight to merit drying a load of washing in their tumble dryer. It was this sense of choice and control that they appreciated most.”

Tanya Hedley, director of electricity at the Utility Regulator, said: “The Utility Regulator welcomes the findings of this trial and its role in highlighting the value of Smart meters to individual customers.

“Smart meters are a key tool in helping government deliver renewable targets which will result in reduced carbon emissions.

“In response to the Energy Minister’s announcement in July 2012 that all electricity consumers will have electricity meters by 2020, we will shortly be consulting on how this is rolled out in Northern Ireland.”

Smart meters provide customers with easy to read information on how much electricity they are consuming the previous day, week, month or year, and allow customers to set up targets for consumption if they wish to. The ‘in-house display’ unit can be placed in any part of the home, such as a kitchen unit or hall table.

A number of partners were involved in the Smart Meter trial, including National Energy Action NI, NIE, PowerNI, Carillion Energy Services, and the Department for Social Development.