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Lack of trust in tech is damaging smarthome industry

Consumers are beginning to trust devices less, and so they are not allowing them to influence their lives and change their behaviour for the better

A drop in consumer trust in technology has led to smarthome technologies for energy efficiency being underused, research by Edelman has revealed.

According to the firm, the drop in trust has come about as a result of events such as the revelations of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and the UK government's planned surveillance legislation – dubbed the snoopers' charter – which have made consumers question whether the data collected by smart technology will be used for good.

“Will consumers allow this nudging from smartmeters to change our lives?” asked Nick Hay, director of Cleantech at Edelman. “Will we really trust these smart technologies and let them through our doors?”

Currently, according to Hay, only 14% of homes in the UK have already installed smarthome devices for performance monitoring. But adoption of these technologies, he said, is essential for development and innovation in the smartmeters industry, and adoption depends upon trust.

The research showed consumer trust is on the decline, with 49% of consumers claiming technology innovation is moving “too fast”, although 70% said tech is a main driver for change.

According to the research, consumers believe businesses are implementing this change for money rather than to improve people’s lives, and more than half of consumers believe technologies are not tested enough before they are introduced.

“In the UK energy sector the areas that matter most to customers have the largest gaps in performance,” said Hay. “The failure to ensure quality control and protect consumer data are particularly relevant for utilities.”

Among these areas of importance, “making my life easier” was rated as highly important, something smarthomes aim to do.

Dave Wetherall from the Energy Saving Trust said that people expect these technologies to be more widely accepted by the younger generation.

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But although younger people are twice as interested in smarthome technology than the older generation, they do not necessarily have the chance to adopt these technologies because many are living at home longer or are renting from a landlord and therefore have less control than a homeowner over energy consumption.

“Younger people seem to be missing out,” Wetherall said. “Younger people are more excited by the novelty, by the ability to play with these technologies.”

Smartmetering should fuel engagement with young people by helping them to understand energy consumption, and give them the means to engage with their landlord about making their property better and more efficient.

But Hay also highlighted that these technologies should not only reduce costs, but also help individuals to understand how they are using energy in their homes.

“If we are going to use these technologies to automate the home, to make life easier, to make switching easier and reduce energy bills, we don’t want to do that at the expense of distancing people even further from and understanding of their energy use,” he said.

But according to Chris Brauer from Goldsmiths, the main risk for the smartmetering industry is people’s attitude to being monitored and finding the truth about their behaviours. “People don’t like things that damage their self-image,” he said. “They would rather turn it off than change.”

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