Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand

Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand

Smart meter rollout in the UK: Dynamics of expectations

Introduction

Smart meters have taken a prominent role in the energy demand reduction discourse of the UK government over the past decade. Driven by the EU Energy End-Use Efficiency and Energy Services Directive in 2006, the government has extensively discussed different forms of metering, tariffing and billing of energy. This has lead to the establishment of a substantial regulatory, policy and organisational apparatus, setting in motion the Smart Metering Implementation Programme (SMIP). The aim of programme is to rollout 53 million residential and non-domestic gas and electricity meters by 2020 to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of energy use and change consumer behaviour. In addition to these short-term benefits, the rollout is linked to broader visions of a future electricity system based on a smart grid. Although expectations of possible benefits are currently described to be high, the outcomes of the rollout are still uncertain. Given the growing international backlash against smart meters, the identification of alternative expectations and possible deflations of existing expectations may be crucial when considering the realisation of associated policy goals, for instance, to ‘ensure that smart meters are optimised and fairly distributed’ (DECC 2015:5).

The research project focuses on the expectations behind the smart metering programme by various actors, including policymakers, NGOs, businesses, community groups and a wide range of other stakeholders. Particular attention is paid to how the expectations may differ, how they change over time, and how change in expectations link to real-time developments of the smart metering rollout. The project pays attention to the embedding and mobilisations of expectations, examining how and why they have changed over time and associated issues of power encompassed in these negotiations in connection to the process of the smart metering rollout.

Aims & Research questions

This project aims to investigate the dynamics of expectations and their link to governance in the UK smart metering rollout. The expectations approach will capture elements of sociotechnical change by viewing expectations both through their content as well as how they are shaped and mobilised by multiple actors and embedded through the implementation of the smart metering policy. The project will address the following main research questions

  1. What is the range of expectations and visions associated with the smart metering roll out held by different actors and how and why these expectations have changed over time?
  2. How have expectations and visions been shaped and mobilised? How have they embedded within policy, regulatory and technical documents, requirements and guidelines? Which and whose expectations have been included in such configurations, and which have been excluded?
  3. How have the dynamics of expectations coevolved with policy implementation during the smart metering role out?

Methodology

The project will use a mix of qualitative methods: document analysis, interviews and participant observations subjected to both discourse analysis and policy analysis. This includes an analysis of the discourses surrounding the smart meter rollout in the UK, in particular, associated expectations and visions within the period of 2010-2017. The timeframe has been chosen to encapsulate from process from the policy design stage (July 2010-March 2011) through the foundation stage (March 2011-until now), and until the installation stage. The timing of the research is a unique window of opportunity to investigate the discourses surrounding the dynamics of expectations retrospectively (from 2010 until now) and to follow them in real time until August 2017 (one year into the mass-rollout).