Data privacy and smart meters

Ipsos research for the Energy Networks Association explores consumer attitudes to smart meter data being used to more effectively manage the UK electricity network.

The author(s)
  • Alexandra Palmqvist Aslaksen Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
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Smart meters are the next generation of electricity meters, and 30 million of them are being rolled out across Great Britain to homes and small businesses. The roll out of smart meters offers households a way of engaging further with their electricity consumption, for example seeing how much is being used in near real-time through the in-home display.

The smart meter roll-out is also a key part of modernising the electricity system across Great Britain, offering opportunities for organisations in our electricity network. This includes opportunities for Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) which are the organisations which transfer electricity from the transmission network to our homes.

Accessing electricity consumption data from household smart meters offers DNOs new, and potentially more effective, ways of managing energy demand across the electricity network. However, this also raises important questions about how consumers feel about the sharing and use of their data.

Ipsos was commissioned by the Energy Networks Association (ENA), representing the DNOs in the UK, to undertake qualitative research on consumer attitudes to DNOs accessing half hourly electricity consumption data from smart meters.

The research involved 12 focus groups which explored participant reactions to data privacy in the context of the smart meter roll out, and use of half-hourly data by DNOs specifically.

The key findings are:

  • Electricity consumption data is not considered sensitive information by most, and many were comfortable with this being accessed (on the understanding this was not linked to any personal contact information);
  • Once participants understood the role and remit of DNOs (as initial awareness was low), they felt further reassured that access to their consumption data would not result in negative outcomes for them (no selling or marketing, for example, or increases in bills);
  • The use of consumption data to assist more efficient strategic planning was a benefit that resonated with many participants. These benefits for the network, as well as a general sense of reducing wastage and preserving resources, motivated most participants to be supportive of DNOs using this data (though some would like to see further evidence of a more direct benefit for themselves);
  • While many participants were comfortable with DNOs using consumption data on a half hourly basis, and even at the level of individual properties, there is appetite for further information on the additional value this level of data provides to DNOs.
  • Although there was a small group of participants who were less supportive of the DNO proposal, this did not reflect concerns about DNO safeguarding of data or DNO use of data, but instead reflected a more general attitude about the importance of data privacy.

Technical note

  • The study involved 12 two-hour focus groups held with 10 participants each, in November and December 2016 in: London (x2), Edinburgh, Ipswich (Diss), Southampton, Bath/Bristol (Chipping Sodbury), Leicester, Sheffield, Wrexham, Manchester, Aberdeen (Inverurie) and Newcastle.
The author(s)
  • Alexandra Palmqvist Aslaksen Ipsos Public Affairs, UK

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