The Visible Energy Trial (VET)

The Visible Energy Trial was an ambitious year long trial of three new experimental products (the Solo, Duet and Trio) conducted across three groups of 75 homes in East Anglia.  It was co-sponsored by Carbon Connections and British Gas and it was supervised and analysed by The University of East Anglia.

There is a strong view abroad that displays only hold peoples’ interest for a number of months. However, this analysis shows that:

  • Only 11% of respondents do not wish to continue with their display after 12 months and of this 11%, approximately half reverted to old habits.
  • Just less than 50% of respondents were using their display as much or more than when they first received it.  It appears that the displays have been absorbed into the general routine of the house and were used to remind people of their energy usage and alert them to issues rather than being the centre of attention.
  • Possibly the most important result is that approximately 70% of users reported an increase in their confidence to engage with energy matters. This is a key leading measure as people will not engage with the market and take energy management seriously if they are not confident in their own knowledge.

One purpose of an energy display is to help people cut out wastage by changing their behaviours. It would appear that there is very little discretionary use of electricity:  people are not inclined to watch TV in the dark or not use a dishwasher!  However, avoiding wastage can, depending on the lifestyles of the users, offer significant savings. Approximately 50% of the respondents already have a full set of low energy light bulbs indicating that they are already well aware of their habits. Nevertheless about 70% of respondents still reported switching things off more than they did before having their display.

A second, and possibly more important purpose of an energy display, is to trigger other actions that deliver significant and lasting improvements in energy efficiency. These entail expenditure and are often the point at which engagement ends!  Indeed, the Energy Savings Trust calls this the stagnation point and another objective of this trial was to see if the displays would persuade users to break through this stage. The survey shows that as a direct result of having a display:

  • Almost all those that did not have a full set of low energy light bulbs bought additional ones;
  • Over 30% of respondents bought low energy appliances;
  • Approximately 25% of respondents were considering installing  insulation;
  • Approximately 35% of respondents were considering fitting solar panels.

Looking ahead, approximately 65% of respondents believe it is necessary to have a display with a smart meter and this rises to over 90% if you add in those who think a display would be nice to have (and therefore a benefit of having a smart meter).  Only 4% of respondents thought a display unnecessary.

The bottom line seemed to be that good displays work.