Why it's time to get smart

Customers across the UK have said that they like combined water and energy efficiency messages, says Andrew Tucker, water strategy manager at the Energy Saving Trust, so why wait any longer?

Around a quarter of domestic CO2 emissions and a third of gas bills are from hot water use in the home. Energy efficiency schemes have shown that you can achieve significant carbon and cash savings from improved behaviour in house, but water remains on the fringes of energy efficiency thinking.

One thing is for certain - ten years down the line of retrofitting for energy efficiency, we don't want to be kicking ourselves for leaving water off the agenda. The UK needs to start thinking of water efficiency as standard practice when implementing energy efficiency, CO2 reduction or fuel poverty programmes. The days of top-tips and mail outs from utilities are over - they do not change behaviours long term. Better results are achieved from individual household assessments and personalised advice, especially at the time of installing devices.

Utilities need to spend quality time with householders, showing them family-specific benefits from saving energy and water. People typically use energy and water at the same time, so bringing energy and water saving retrofit and education together makes sense from a delivery perspective.

An Energy Saving Trust (EST) survey, conducted in every UK region, found that 63% of people preferred to have energy and water efficiency addressed together, with a further 25% 'OK' with the concept. However, the whole process needs to be made much more fun and engaging.

Getting into someone's home is costly and difficult. Two massive opportunities to do so will be Green Deal and national rollout of smart energy meters with real time displays (RTs). It is vital that utilities capitalise on the opportunities that these programmes could bring to education and behaviour change. It is easy to focus completely on getting the kit delivered and installed and thinking that this alone will deliver the holy grail of CO2 and fuel poverty reduction. Whether it is the Green Deal, smart meter rollout or a loft and cavity wall insulation, the long-term benefits will come from those schemes that also:

  • Design the scheme thinking of the customer first
  • Design the scheme so that behaviour change is on par with the measures
  • Include water efficiency measures and behaviour change assistance
  • Market and promote the programme, and its benefits, on a big longterm scale

Possibly the most successful combined energy and water retrofit / behaviour change scheme anywhere in the world is the Queensland ClimateSmart Home Service in Australia. RTD has succeeded in persuading families to buy into the service in the first place.

Then, advisers can teach householders about how to use their new gadget, appliances and whole house more efficiently. Water and energy are addressed together, there is a huge focus of marketing and education, and they aim to get into the house to help each family. ClimateSmart has built up a very high level of trust with the Queensland population, so much so in fact, that people proactively want the service and want to change.

Water meters
But what about water metering? Similar benefits to both consumers and water companies are clearly there, so will there be a compulsory roll-out?

And can water meters be smart?

When it comes to the term 'smart', water suffers the same definition issues as energy. For the purposes of consistency in this article, let us just focus on the customer interface - the RTD.

Smart technology for water use in the home does exist, and while not as mature or mainstream as energy smart metering, there are a number of device options being trialled, with several companies. These include in-home displays and transmitter devices. Thames Water, Wessex Water, Veolia Water and Southern Water are among these leading the way.

There is no official word of smart water metering becoming a regulation requirement imminently, meaning it may be a case of a 'roll-out' happening more organically in the water sector.

While the majority of meters are still 'dumb' and external, there is a rapidly increasing move to automatic meter reading systems (AMR) 'walk by' and 'drive by' technologies. But there are barriers to be overcome beyond maturity of technologies.

Less than 40% of homes are currently metered for water, and companies struggle to make the economic case for accelerated metering without severe supply and demand problems that provide the push in countries like Australia. It is also possible that in-home water displays - key in changing behaviour - could only be economical on a mass scale if they come as a bolt-on to existing energy display.

But there is plenty to be hopeful about. The importance of combining energy and water efficiency has cut through to retrofit programmes like London's RE:NEW and there are positive noises about water's role in the Green Deal.

Ultimately it is possible that if smart metering is done in a way that fully captures the opportunity for householder engagement, increased customer expectation from the benefits they see will provide the driver for smart technologies to take off across all utilities.

Water efficiency is now a core business area for the Energy Saving Trust, for more information email andrew.tucker@est.org.uk.


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