Smart Meters as Motivators to Save Energy

Bruno Morel

Project Manager, Atos Worldgrid

Everybody knows we must manage our energy better, but turning knowledge into action is never easy. To initiate change, smart cities must engage and motivate their inhabitants.

Take smart meters, for instance. We’ve heard much about how they can reduce energy consumption, but this will only happen if inhabitants are willing to share their data and act on the insights derived. As I will explain below, utilities can help smart cities encourage inhabitants to play an active role in smart metering initiatives.

The smart meter digital dilemma explained

Smart grids are undoubtedly critical to a sustainable energy future. They allow distribution system operators (DSOs) to manage energy distribution more effectively and efficiently at a time when the energy mix is evolving rapidly. Smart meters are one of the smart grid’s most critical elements, providing vital real-time insights into energy demand — insights that, incidentally, will also help energy retailers identify new markets.

Smart meters benefit cities too, contributing to a cleaner environment that is a more pleasant place to live. But how do smart meters improve the lives of inhabitants? Unfortunately, many people feel that these real-time data collectors impact their privacy — a fact which drives one of the “digital dilemmas” facing actors deploying smart metering today.

Since the 2018 implementation of the European data privacy regulations known as GDPR, data privacy has become an important issue for those actors. The challenge they face is twofold: 1.) How to manage personal data to be compliant with the law and 2.) How to encourage inhabitants fearful of the impact of smart meters on their privacy to become active players in their smart metering systems.

Our experience in working with ALEC (Agence Locale de l’Energie et du Climate — the local energy and climate agency) in the French metropolis of Grenoble has revealed a key strategy for overcoming this digital dilemma: engagement.

Reducing energy consumption in Grenoble

Created in 1998 to “contribute locally to the energy transition,” ALEC is part of a network of around 250 European agencies acting locally for the global preservation of our environment. It provides energy consumption information to inform the city’s building refurbishment and construction programs. To accelerate change across the city, ALEC also needed to motivate inhabitants to reduce their energy consumption. While everybody knows we must manage our energy better, individuals tend not to act — most often because of a lack of guidance and support.

The VivaCité collaborative energy data management program offers a potential answer. An experimental VivaCité platform, run by local utility operators in Grenoble in collaboration with Atos Worldgrid, demonstrates the positive role that such a solution can play in introducing energy changes. In 2019, “Grenoble Metropole” confirmed that it would extend the program in 2020 to cover the entire Grenoble metropolis, renaming it “Metro Energies.”

VivaCité recognizes that inhabitants are more likely to take part in smart metering initiatives if they have confidence in the project. It clearly explained the aims of the initiative, along with why these goals are so important and how it hopes to achieve them. It also addressed privacy concerns by demonstrating GDPR compliance, explaining how it manages personal data and, most importantly, allowing inhabitants to manage that data — viewing and deleting it if they want to. VivaCité’s web portal has an “About Me” area where any inhabitant with an account on the portal can quickly and easily see all the personal data the system holds about them.

Confident they can access and control their data, and that they are sharing their data for the benefit of the metropolis rather than a private company, inhabitants are more willing to take part. And by engaging in the smart metering initiative, inhabitants benefit from accurate information about their consumption of gas, electricity and water.

Engaging inhabitants so they act

However, the overall aim of the VivaCité portal wasn’t to allow inhabitants to manage their data; it was to engage inhabitants in thinking about the future and encourage them to take action for a more sustainable future.

While inhabitants may consume a lot of energy today, in 20 or so years their consumption will be lower. To accelerate this transition, the portal pushed advice to help inhabitants engage with this vision of the future and act toward making it a reality. Anyone using the portal could quickly and easily access a series of leaflets produced by ALEC addressing real energy and water concerns: saving energy and water and improving comfort in their homes.

The VivaCité platform allows utilities to help smart cities break down the digital dilemmas that may prove to be a barrier on their journey to a greener future. Utilities, cities and their agencies can use it to augment smart metering initiatives to make inhabitants aware of their energy consumption, then push information to them to encourage them to take action to reduce it. After all, encouraging inhabitants to participate is critical to enacting the transition to a sustainable energy future.

Smart metering systems are a critical new digital technology that energy and utility companies must adopt to ensure a more sustainable future. Like other new technologies, smart meters bring new digital dilemmas that neither energy and utility companies nor their smart city partners have ever faced before.


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