It’s understandable that some people don’t want the world to know what they do online. But could the same apply to data about when they turn on their washing machines or the way they use their freezers? It seems so.

A study has found that many people in the UK are worried about having smart meters in their homes because they fear that data about their personal energy use will be shared.

The UK government says it wants all homes to have smart meters within five years. These will allow users to set equipment that only needs energy intermittently – such as washing machines and freezers – to switch on at times when the grid has spare capacity and power is cheap.

The meters will save people money, as well as making it easier for the grid to incorporate fluctuating sources of renewable energy such as wind and solar power – thus helping to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

Data shy

But in an online survey of more than 2400 people in the UK, Alexa Spence of Nottingham University found that a fifth would be “uncomfortable” with the data sharing needed to do that.

Strangely, she says, people who were worried about their energy bills were the most fearful, whereas those who were more concerned about climate change tended to be more amenable to data sharing.

“That did surprise me,” Spence says. “I really did expect to see people [who were] concerned about costs being more accepting of smart technologies.”

People are becoming increasingly aware of the value of their personal data and privacy, and they often err on the side of caution, Spence says.

She adds that it is great news that people care enough about climate change to want smart meters – but a shame that those who worry about their bills may be reluctant to use these devices, which could save them money. The government, she concludes, has some persuading to do.

Journal reference: Nature Climate Change, DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2610

If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.

Related Posts

Facebook Comments

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲