Smart energy delivery, smarter energy consumers
An EU-funded project has developed guidelines and tools for energy providers and policymakers that are empowering businesses, communities and households to use electricity wisely, saving consumers money and promoting sustainability.
© ipopba #175896435, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
Consumers play a key role in Europe’s transition to energy systems revolving around cleaner sources, better infrastructure and reduced consumption. But the so-called smart grids of the future which incorporate renewables and high-tech, interactive gadgets that can help households save power and cut costs may still be a mystery to many.
The EU-funded S3C project produced recommendations on how best to promote public awareness of smart energy consumption and smart grids, engage users in related product development and, by extension, promote energy efficiency. Stakeholders targeted included EU, national and regional policymakers, as well as grid operators and power suppliers, the energy industry, consumer associations, regulators and research organisations.
Amid efforts to encourage a new way of thinking about energy, S3C created a popular hands-on kit encompassing some 50 guidelines and tools focused on everything from how to introduce smart household appliances to building local energy communities.
‘People want practical support from their energy suppliers to improve their energy efficiency, secure supply and reduce costs,’ says Ludwig Karg, managing director of B.A.U.M. Consult in Germany, a project partner. “S3C evaluated good practices from all around Europe and used those to create guidelines and tools.’
Best practice, smart practice
In addition to the toolkit, the consortium led by the Belgian-based Flemish Institute for Technological Research drew up 24 specific stakeholder recommendations in a bid to better engage people in smart energy projects. Among other things, these focused on visions and expectations including creating public trust in energy operators, new products and services as well as regulation, how to address consumer knowledge gaps and mobilise resources.
The consortium also worked closely with 32 national and regional smart energy projects across the EU, studying how these approached consumers and investigating what worked and what didn’t. The subsequently produced S3C guidelines and tools were then tested and improved in field trials at three European utility companies, as well as by a network of experts.
‘Public authorities and utilities are seeking new ways to actively involve their citizens and customers in energy transition initiatives,’ says Karg. ‘In response, we brought together psychologists, social scientists and engineers to design and evaluate over 50 tools and guidelines on how energy authorities, energy providers and other stakeholders can get consumers involved in smart energy projects.’
Available online at www.smartgrid-engagement-toolkit.eu, the wide-ranging toolkit includes how to balance monetary and non-monetary incentives, as well as understand socio-demographic profiles of different user groups and their attitudes, values and behaviour. It even contains a ready-to-use smart energy quiz and clues on how to use it to build closer customer relations.
With some 3 000 visitors per month, the toolkit site sees 500 to 1 000 downloads per month, according to Karg. Popular ones include how to run a household energy audit scheme for customers who want to lower their energy bills. Also of high interest are guidelines to tell how and why consumers differ, and how varying groups can be motivated to become smart energy users.
Turning advice into action
Consortium partners have taken the knowledge gained from S3C forward in a variety of different ways. Italy’s Ricerca sul Sistema Energetico, or RSE, for example, got involved in a pilot project aimed at raising energy awareness about energy-related topics among low-income households and making them more energy efficient in the process.
Portugal’s EDP Distribuição, meanwhile, created popular S3C guidelines on ‘gamification’ playful smart meter-based games involving competitions, scoring and prizes that can be used to gain interest and foster changes in attitudes to study consumer behaviour and encourage user involvement.
Significantly, many of S3C’s recommendations are being advanced by the EU-funded ERA-NET Smart Energy Systems initiative.
With an eye on the future, S3C drew up pointers for further research, noting in its final report that smart grid technology is a tough sell and that the challenge is finding innovative products and services that provide clear added value to the public while contributing to fostering smart and sustainable consumer behaviour.