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London Tech Week: Could smart meters drive connected home adoption?

One day, everyone’s homes will be smart. Everything will be automated, connected, voice activated. It’ll be great. At least that’s how science fiction and futurologists have been saying it will go down.

“I saw my first internet fridge in 1999,” said Martin Harriman, Director at Dixons Carphone Warehouse, while speaking at a Connected Home event at TechUK for London Tech Week. “And I still haven’t bought one”.

Despite interest from a range of areas – telcos, insurance companies, utilities, hardware companies, and advertisers such as Google – Harriman says there have been “a lot of false dawns” around asking if the smarthome could possibly be “the best solution that hasn’t found a problem yet.”

Is it about making people feel safer? Is it about convenience and the “Uberization” of the home? Is it about saving more and making the home more energy efficient? No one has worked out which is the answer, not even the public. “Consumers don’t know what they want, but know when it’s good,” said Harriman. “I’m certain what we’re showing so far isn’t determined to be good enough. Most of this stuff is gathering dust of shelves.”

Mike McCrory, Head of Product Management for Smart Things at Samsung, admitted that it is “very hard” to get people excited about connected homes because, to put it simply, “people are ok turning out the lights themselves”. He also conceded that at this moment the best course of action is to build devices for the adopters at this stage of the IoT hype cycle.

The aspect of trust and confidence was also raised during the event. While McCrory said there was “A lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt in this space,” he thought that it was overplayed. While people have fears around the security of IoT doorbells, most burglars “look in the window, ring your doorbell and kick your door down” before they would ever start to hack your devices.

He suggests the best way to drive adoption is to “phase people into it”, starting with lights and working their way up to Sonos, security cameras, thermostats etc. and compared the fears of today’s connected home akin to worries over the earliest banking apps. “20 years from now, the concept of a connected lock will be fairly mundane.”

Smart meters are coming, and could drag smart homes with them

According to a new study from PwC, 72% of people are not currently interested in buying smart home technologies, whether that’s smart heating systems, plugs, appliances, lighting, renewable energy devices or automated cleaning appliances over the next two to five years.

However, the study did find that once people did adopt smart devices, over 80% of people says the devices have a positive impact. So once people are over the initial hump of adoption, it seems people are quickly converted into smarthome fans.

Claire Maugham, Director of Policy and Communications, Smart Energy GB, believes the UK’s rollout of smart meters could drive smarthome adoption.

Some background: Energy is the “last great analogue industry” and “decades behind when every other aspect of life is digital”. Many people are disengaged, assume their bills are wrong but don’t know how to contest, with some not even knowing where the meter is in their house. Smart meters will do away with estimates and allow people to have real-time views of their electricity consumption via apps or dedicated devices.

Maugham claims the rollout of smart meters is bigger in scale than the work required for the London Olympics, with 50 million due to be installed over the next four years. Currently over 1,000,000 have been installed, according to government figures, with a 100% installation required by 2020.

Early feedback, however, suggests these devices – supplied by energy companies – do actually soften people up to the idea of IoT devices. Of the 1 million smart meters owners currently in the UK, more than 80% would recommend them, and are in general more likely to investigate other connected home devices. A large proportion of smart meter owners are elderly and/or living in rural areas, fuelling a different adoption curve to other technologies.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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