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Smart meters alone won’t save you money

But real-time energy displays will help

Smart meters won’t automatically help consumers save money on their energy bills, a new study suggests.

Research published in the journal Building Research & Information found that getting a smart meter – which automatically measures energy use and sends it to your energy supplier – installed won’t save you money. You will only benefit if the smart meter comes with a real-time energy display, and even then it will be a challenge to keep up the savings.

Which? energy researcher Hazel Cottrell says: ‘This research comes as no great surprise. Which? has long been campaigning for smart meters to come with visual display units (similar to energy monitors) and it looks like the government has taken this on-board, as its Smart Meter Prospectus includes plans for handheld energy displays.

‘However, even these will not save consumers money automatically, and will require users to make significant behavioural changes in order to get into the habit of energy saving.’

To find out more about smart meters and energy monitors and to see a video of both devices in action, check out our guide, smart meters and energy monitors explained.

‘The feedback effect’

In her research paper ‘Smart metering: what potential for householder engagement?’ scientist Sarah Darby emphasises the importance of giving consumers effective feedback on their energy use.

She told the BBC that smart meters have the potential to help people save money, but: ‘There is no inevitability about this. Smart metering can be introduced in such a way where people do not get the feedback effect, in which case you lose that benefit of the technology.’

Which? agrees and as well as campaigning for real-time energy display units, it is calling on the UK government to educate consumers so they are equipped to get the most from these units. See Smart meters: Brits risk getting a raw deal for more information.

Short-lived savings

Another new research paper, from the Delft University of Technology, has warned that the savings made by using energy monitors may be reduced over time. Its 15-month study of people using home energy monitors found that the initial electricity savings of 7.8% after four months could not be sustained in the medium- to long- term.

The study also found that certain groups of people were more receptive to energy-saving practices and were able to quickly develop new habits and make bigger savings than others.

Lower your gas and electricity bills

You can compare energy prices and switch to a new gas and electricity supplier on Which? Switch. People who switched with us between 1 October and 31 December 2013 are predicted to save an average of £234 a year on their bills.

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