Consumers welcome smart local energy systems in Home Truths survey

Published: 4 December 2019

Most energy consumers like the idea of being part of a ‘smart local energy system’ where homes and businesses generate and sell their own clean power and provide flexibility to help balance the grid, according to a new survey.

The survey from Energy Systems Catapult’s Home Truths consumer insights panel found 58% felt positively about smart local energy systems despite less than a fifth saying they had heard of the concept before.

However, fewer consumers were positive about the services that can form part of such a system – such as peer-to-peer trading and demand-side response. Those that gave neutral or negative responses were more likely to report difficulties in understanding these complex energy services, whilst others had concerns about losing control of their energy use.

The research was commissioned by the Catapult-led Energy Revolution Integration Service (ERIS), a government-backed initiative working with a number of smart local energy demonstration projects around the UK to help them prepare for investment.

418 people gave their views of four service concepts: peer-to-peer trading, demand-side response, vehicle-to-grid energy usage, and heat as a service. They were also quizzed on their thoughts about the overarching concept of local energy.

How consumers rated each concept after reading a simplified explanation of them

Dr Matt Lipson, Head of Consumer Insights at Energy Systems Catapult, said: “We asked the Home Truths panel to list their main likes and dislikes about the four service concepts that are most likely to play a key role in smart local energy systems.

“Consumers liked that peer-to-peer trading, demand-side response and vehicle-to-grid would enable them to save money and energy, and many liked the community-based elements of them within a smart local energy system.

“On the other hand, some consumers were put off by the complexity of peer-to-peer trading, while others indicated unease about demand-side response giving them less control over how they use energy.

“What we found overall is people seem more attracted to the bigger picture of a local energy system that is greener, community-based and helps them save money. To maximise the appeal of the service concepts, it makes sense to highlight these benefits as much as possible.”

Dr Lipson also suggested that consumers need a better understanding of each of the service concepts if they are going to be willing to try them.

“In our survey, very few consumers responded negatively to any of the service concepts tested, but many were neutral,” he added.

“Those who responded neutrally found the concepts harder to understand, suggesting that improved understanding of the benefits through clear and concise explanations would help increase their appeal.

“Given the wariness towards losing control that was evident in the results, it is important that designs of these technologies give consumers the level of control they want, perhaps through guarantees or override options.”

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • Over 40% indicated that they would trust a ‘local energy company’, whilst 24% said they wouldn’t
  • Those who had ‘high’ trust in local energy companies responded better to the service concepts tested
  • When testing ‘heat as a service’, consumers liked the premise of ‘warmth when you want for a fixed price’, but dislike their energy provider choosing their heating system
  • 68% of consumers liked the idea of purchasing ‘warm hours’ instead kilowatt hours – a concept currently being tested in the Catapult’s Living Lab

The findings will help inform the design of several smart local energy system demonstrator projects to ensure that they work in the interests of consumers, as well as the energy system.

Eva Gromadzki, ERIS Director, said: “From our experience working with consumers, often what they say is different to how they may behave. These survey results indicate a real interest in the additional benefits smart local energy systems can enable, however further design and real testing needs to be carried out with consumers to validate these findings.

“ERIS plans to support the demonstrator and detailed design projects in Prospering from the Energy Revolution to further explore these topics, ensuring people’s needs and values are at the heart of the innovative concepts.”

Access full results