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Large-scale testing of new technology: some lessons from the UK smart metering and feedback trials

Panel: 7. Monitoring and evaluation 

This is a peer-reviewed paper.

Sarah Darby, ECI - Energy Group. Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Will Anderson, Centre for Sustainable Energy, Bristol, United Kingdom
Vicki White, Centre for Sustainable Energy, Bristol, United Kingdom


In 2007, the UK government commissioned the Energy Demand Research Project (EDRP), to assess the potential impact from a range of improved forms of feedback to residential energy users, and to test smart metering technologies. This was against a background of policy with four main objectives: reducing carbon emissions, maintaining security of supply, achieving affordable warmth for all and promoting competitive markets.

Work on the project began the following year, with final results due in 2011. The EDRP has been the most complex set of residential energy experiments conducted in the UK, and probably in the world. Over a period of a little over two years, it has involved four major suppliers, over 50,000 ‘trial’ households at the peak, and 10,000 control households. Smart electricity and gas meters were installed in 17,000 of those households, and there have been numerous experiments with billing information, energy efficiency information, real-time display devices and smart meters (alone or in combination). The database includes information on building fabric, heating type and control, customer demographics, and consumption (at hourly or half-hourly intervals for the smart metered households). There is also qualitative information on customer responses to the project and customer-utility relations, along with data on the practical issues faced by meter installers.

This paper, from three members of the external evaluation team for the project, sets out the rationale for the EDRP, and outlines some of the issues confronting those who implemented and evaluated these tests of new technology and communications. The authors draw out some lessons that can be applied in the planning for smart meter rollout, and that are relevant to the conduct of future trials.