Year-round efficiency: a warmer feeling than 12 thick sweaters

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Smart energy controller on a tablet

On Thick Sweater Day, some 200,000 Dutch households turn down the heating a little. The first week of February was colder than average this year, with temperatures around freezing. What would have really happened with people’s thermostat readings on the day? Everyone who participated feels strongly about saving energy. But will improved efficiency take priority on Thick Sweater Day when outside temperatures freezing? I sincerely doubt it.

I want to be comfortable and save money, and I want my personal data to be secure and private. Jan Raes Jan Raes Sustainability advisor

Comfort is more important than money

If it’s cold inside people turn their thermostat up: dreams and reality are separated by practical objections. The reasons for these objections are becoming increasingly clear. People are all for efficiency as long as it doesn’t require much effort on their part. Frugality isn’t our only motivation: we’re also lazy. More than anything else, the Dutch have a reputation for being frugal and they generally proclaim that they want to save money. Their actions don’t bear this out, though. So it’s worth looking at different approaches to saving energy.

Energy efficiency demands an alternative approach

The British have some interesting examples of alternative approaches to improving their energy efficiency. As a people they tend to be less frugal than the Dutch, and they generally give less socially desirable responses when asked whether they’d be prepared to help save energy. In 2011, the UK government discovered that the country’s population as a whole prefer not to insulate their roofs. This is surprising, given the significant projected savings and the low cost of insulation. Yet that wasn’t the point: it was ‘too much effort’.

Tidying up can save money

Some scientists proposed a simple solution, using psychological and sociological methods. They advised combining the insulation work with an offer to tidy up the loft. It’s easier to insulate a roof if the loft where the work is done is neat and tidy. Now suddenly three times as many households as before signed up, even without the tidying service being subsidised. With subsidised costs it was in fact five times as many. Adopting an alternative approach to the insulation problem actually works.

At least we can make it easier

The UK authorities then successfully applied this psychological understanding about insulating homes to taxes and fines. They began sending reminders in personalised text messages. This cut the number of payment summons that were sent out by 150,000 and saved the government 35 million euros. Looking at the psychological tricks used by the UK authorities, encouraging people to put on a thick sweater one day a year actually makes very little sense: to lower your bills you need to improve your energy efficiency all year round. To me, a smart meter seems to be the next logical step toward improved year-round efficiency.

How smart are these meters?

We’re surrounded by smart meters. My car has one that lights up if I’m driving too fast and use too much petrol. A running app tells me how far and how fast I’ve jogged. And at home a glance at another meter tells me what my solar panels have produced that day. So when it comes to gas and electricity, I already keep close track of my annual usage. Will an even smarter meter offer anything extra? I doubt it. But the energy company will learn more about me, at least. Who knows, perhaps they’ll have some clever tips to help me cut back. So maybe an app that monitors my energy patterns isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Efficiency can be learned

Combining a cosy temperature with the kick of a low energy bill sounds logical to me. I want to be comfortable and save money, and I want my personal data to be secure and private.

To find out how our clients felt about this matter, I enlisted the help of the office director of our Eindhoven office to conduct a trial with twenty clients. These clients began using a smart meter to improve their energy efficiency. They also attended a workshop at our offices that presented a series of tips based on the energy patterns of the group as a whole, not of the individuals. The clients didn’t report their data to the bank, but used a new type of service: a smart meter portal. This service offers private individuals with smart meters free and independent information about their energy patterns. Our clients were very enthusiastic about this trial with using smart meters to improve their energy efficiency, thanks to our partnership with slimmemeterportal.nl.

The smartest energy is the energy that isn’t used

Some things can be worth waiting for, but saving money isn’t one of them. Based on the bank’s role in society, we’re educating our clients about ways to save energy. We use “het Groene Boekje” (Dutch only) in partnership with Milieu Centraal. Having more than a million mortgage clients, we can reach numerous households. The information that the bank provides is general: you should contact your energy company or a specialist energy consultant if you want more specific advice. We advise clients who need money to conduct maintenance or modify their homes. There’s no need for them to put off saving energy until they give their homes a major sustainability, until they install solar panels or until a new meter is fitted.

Further information and tips (Dutch)

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