Green plans to make struggling families pay £11.3billion to install smart energy meters in every home risk being an expensive flop and even causing family rows.
Energy Secretary Chris Huhne claims the new meters will allow people to see how much energy they are using by the minute, so encouraging them to cut back.
However, a 12-month pilot study involving thousands of British families found they ‘may have not much effect’ on consumption, and can even trigger arguments.
The research by experts at the University of East Anglia calls into question the huge upheaval and cost of the programme, which will be passed on to families through higher bills.
Dr Tom Hargreaves, of the university’s School of Environmental Sciences, said any initial enthusiasm among householders with smart meters to cut energy use quickly wore off.
In some homes, their use was abandoned; in others there were rows over energy use between parents and children, or between partners.
Dr Hargreaves said: ‘Rather than feeling motivated to save more energy and money, householders were left feeling frustrated and despondent that the changes they could make were very small and they were receiving little or no meaningful support from anywhere else, such as government and local authorities.’
Energy companies are promoting the devices, not least because they will allow them to sack thousands of meter readers and billing staff.
The meters do offer the benefit to consumers that bills will be accurate in future, rather than being based on estimates.
Dr Hargreaves, who is presenting his research today at a conference in London, said the decision to roll out meters had been rushed, without sufficient evidence.
Consumer group Which? said the average household might save only £23 a year by using a smart meter.Daily Mail, 2 September 2011