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Surprising Science

Proposed UK Smart Grid Could Make Citizens’ Energy Usage Public

If everyone’s aware of everyone else’s energy footprints, will that create social pressure to create lasting change?

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What’s the Latest Development?

This week UK experts met to discuss a proposed national “smart grid” that would provide energy as well as detailed data about individual customer usage. Such data would be provided through digital “smart meters,” which are scheduled for a 2014 rollout, as well as in-home displays (IHDs) that, with the right software, could help people manage their energy use by making suggestions for changes. For example, such displays might “[allow] temperature in the home to be set according to how much money a user is willing to spend, or how much of a carbon footprint they are willing to leave…[It] will learn [a user’s] energy profile over time.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Supporters, such as Southampton University professor and IHD software developer Nick Jennings, say that technology will make the task of individual energy conservation easier: “[I]t makes sense to let machines automate some of the process.” Critics, such as Cambridge University professor Ross Anderson, believe that a smart grid is too vulnerable to terrorist attack and that it won’t really make individuals change their habits. However, Anderson does give a nod to Jennings’ work, despite its privacy implications: “If you really want to reduce energy consumption, extreme social pressure is the way to do it.”

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