Lynne Featherstone writes: Smart consumers: the bedrock of the clean energy revolution

“Our roofs will power our washing machines. Our cars will be charged at home. Our homes will be warm without turning the heating on. Our energy will be British, it will be clean.”

This is the vision Tim Farron set out as part of our strategy for Britain to lead the clean energy revolution.

A smarter energy system is a key piece of the puzzle, which will mean this vision can be delivered.

Academics such as Professor Dieter Helm have frequently talked about the potential of this change to improve how our energy systems work. Not only will smarter energy benefit our environment and help to reduce our carbon footprint, but it will support economic growth, innovation, competition and choice in the energy market.

Today, our interaction with energy is simple. We pay for the energy we use, often sticking with the same energy supplier for many years.

Many consumers pay far too much for their energy as a result.

But how we buy energy could be very different and lead to far cheaper bills.

In a recent paper published by Smart Energy GB, Dr Jeffrey Hardy proposed that in the future one of the ways we could buy and use energy could be via trading with neighbours and other local community energy sources.

In effect the sharing economy for energy.

At scale, this would drive the take up of microgeneration and reconfigure our energy supplies to be far more local and sustainable.

This would require a significant shift in how consumers engage with their energy use – but the benefits would be huge.

Not only are smart meters the foundation of the smarter energy grid from a technology perspective, but they are the stepping stone to more empowered and engaged consumers.

They provide near real time information on energy use in pounds and pence via an in-home display, and empower consumers to make better choices about their energy use.

Research shows that millions of households already have smart meters and are changing their energy habits to use less. Of those who have them, 82 per cent have taken steps to change their behaviour. Up to 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from electricity usage and 20 million tonnes of carbon emissions through gas could be saved from consumers being better informed about the energy they’re using.

In 2014, the Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, launched Smart Energy GB, the voice of the national rollout to work with suppliers to ensure consumers are aware of smart meters and that they are a trigger for a change in energy behaviour.

Through greater consumer participation, we can all do our bit to reduce our energy bills and cut emissions at the same time.

All it takes is a simple request to your energy provider for a smart meter to be installed.

Whether you are a tech savvy student helping your grandparents understand their in-home-display or a large business looking to help their employees save money and be better energy managers, you can be part of a national energy revolution.

With the 10th anniversary of Earth Hour approaching on the 25th March at 8.30pm, you can help share the message about how to make Earth Hour matter by getting energy use under control. Spread the message via the Thunderclap here.

Creating a cleaner, greener Britain is our collective responsibility. We need to act now.


* Lynne Featherstone was the MP for Hornsey and Wood Green from 2005 to 2015, and served as a minister in both the Home Office and Department for International Development. She is now a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and blogs at

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Jenny Barnes 22nd Mar '17 - 4:28pm

    I have a “smart” meter. In order to read it, I have to press button 9, and remember which of the 25 different numbers that then come up is the one I should be paying attention to. The “inhome display” that came with it never told me anything that was the slightest use, just sat there using up batteries. In the old days I had a meter that when I wanted to read it, I looked at it, and took the numbers off it. When I generated more solar pv electricity than I was using it went backwards (yay). Nostalgia may not be what it used to be, but “smart” meters are rubbish.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Mar '17 - 8:34am

    WE do not have a smart meter, but note recent publicity which says that they are specific to one supplier and go seriously wrong if the consumer changes supplier.

  • Nonconformistradical 23rd Mar '17 - 9:22am

    Smart meters have also been shown to be vulnerable to hacking.

    “Up to 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from electricity usage and 20 million tonnes of carbon emissions through gas could be saved from consumers being better informed about the energy they’re using.”

    Lynne – that’s completely meaningless. “Up to..” DOES NOT MEAN 10 million or 20 million – it could mean any number you like which doesn’t exceed those quoted numbers.

  • Even the eco-fanatical Germans refused to obey the EU directive to install smart meters on the grounds that they are too expensive. Still, we are going ahead with replacing 56 million perfectly good meters with smart ones at the eye watering cost of £14 billion. Consumers who switch find that their smart meters are not compatible with the new energy supplier. Incompetence reigns. The alleged benefit of smart meters is based on estimates of consumer ignorance and stupidity and the assumption that meters will transforms their consumption. Consumers are not stupid and already know that different appliances consume different amounts of electricity.

    We can all look forward to the time when firmware updates will regulate the power to individual homes or even appliances. The destruction of our once stable electrical supply is forcing the government to turn to demand management instead – at great cost.

  • Germany, with its Energiewende or renewable energy policy, has now increased electricity costs so much that over 330,000 citizens have been disconnected because they cannot afford to pay their energy bills. The cost are projected to continue to soar.

    Still, it is all in a good cause. Not so, the rush to renewables has so far cost more than one trillion Euros but just look at Germany’s carbon dioxide emissions.

    As the link shows, the trend continues upwards to record levels.

  • Smart meters aren’t compulsory. My supplier said they needed to replace my electricity meter and offered a smart one. I refused (for the reasons others have stated above) and so got a new but dumb meter installed.

    I’m already smart enough to know that appliances use less energy when you turn them off, and typing my meter readings into a smartphone app once a month is hardly a burden.

  • What others have said – a pointless waste of money!

    We have smart meters with a display unit showing how much we are using. The display lasted a week before it was consigned to collecting dust at the back of a cupboard. And now we’ve switched suppliers they can no longer be read remotely so I have to call the readings through each month which is easier said than done as they are a pig to read.

    Also, I notice our meters are owned by Macquarie – an Australian bank that specialises in finding ways to extract ‘rent’ where none is necessary thereby putting up the cost of living for everyone to no useful purpose. The opportunity for rent is, I suspect, the real reason for these not-very-smart meters sold with a thin coat of greenwash. A good Parliamentary question would be to ask how much, on average, they cost per annum and how much of that is rent. That might turn up nothing interesting but on the other hand …

    The premise is that everyone will gain through improved ‘choice’ and becoming ‘empowered’ and ‘engaged’. This idea, that people will save by becoming ‘better shoppers’, is a core neoliberal fallacy and simply isn’t going to happen on any scale; many people haven’t even changed supplier. However, what it DOES do is create endless opportunities for confusion marketing, overcharging and tricking consumers into poor decisions.

  • I think that those who have these meters and those who don’t, unite in saying that they are a complete waste of money and the benefits to the consumer are at best grossly exaggerated or more likely, zero.

    Meanwhile, some people are making a lot of money from this fiasco and the consumers have to foot the £14 billion bill. Thank you, Ed Davey.

    Ms Featherstone, perhaps you would like to intervene to save £14 billion being squandered for no reason?

  • There are a lot of interesting points in the original article, and subsequent discussion, so thank you to everyone who has contributed.

    My tuppence is that while it’s good to know how much energy we use at home, it’s only a tiny part of the energy we consume overall. Never mind the efficiency rating of our fridges, what about the energy rating of our gadgets, our clothes, and the services we procure in the wider world?

    Most renewable energy schemes like to translate their energy production into how many households it could supply. That’s easy for people to imagine, and generally sounds pretty good, which makes us all feel good. Until you remember that most of the UK’s energy requirements are not domestic, but business, industry or transport related. And that’s before we consider the energy requirements of businesses in China in the production of our A rated electronic goods.

  • I recognise that our debate about domestic energy consumption is over, with Ms Featherstone making the concluding remarks. There is, however, a wider and more important aspect of energy consumption and with the permission of the moderators, I wish to mention it here. This should be of enormous concern to all Lib Dems.

    Leaving aside all concerns about climate change, the low cost and plentiful availability of electrical energy has, more than any other factor, driven the development of our society for two hundred years.

    It has transformed the way we can satisfy the human basic needs of lighting, heating and cooking. Appliances have transformed the housewife’s chores and electrical tools have relieved the backbreaking work of labourers.

    Electricity is now at the heart of our economy, essential for the digital age, information age and almost every other aspect of our age.

    Today, flawed climate models (because their predictions have proved to be badly wrong) have led to policies that attempt to demonise electricity. Some aspects of EU policy are to raise costs to limit consumption by making electricity unaffordable. That leads to fuel poverty here, but in developing countries, the deterrents are having catastrophic effects.

    Many Africans are being denied low cost, coal fired electricity. They use fires within their homes, fuelled by dung and vegetation, in order to provide the basic human needs of light, heating and cooking. Many die at an early age due to lung disease.

    Western civilisation, built on plentiful, low cost electricity, is denying third world people the same opportunities for reasons of failed computer model climate predictions. Smart meters are a hugely expensive, trivial and pointless gesture driven by the same flawed mindset. Low cost and plentiful energy should be a basic right and primary objective of every society.

    Renewables cannot meet this objective for fundamental, obvious reasons.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Chris Moore
    Mick, our record at holding by-elections in the current political generation, i.e. last 25 years, has been distorted by the wipe out in 2015, at which point we ...
  • Mick Taylor
    I reject emphatically the idea that Corbyn was as toxic for Labour as militant. He actually did quite well in 2017 and only started doing badly when the entire ...
  • Mick Taylor
    @Roger Billins. I was 12 when the Liberals won Orpington and helped with the campaign. Eric held the seat for 8 years and then lost it in the disastrous electio...
  • John Marriott
    @David Raw Thanks for thinking of me. I’ve been on a bit of a self imposed sabbatical from LDV, which looks like being permanent. I think I’ve ruffled too ...
  • Tristan Ward
    @Paul Barker "everyone is running down the Solid Labour win in Wakefield" Seems about right to me: 12.75 % compared to our 30% swing 39% turnout (be...