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To achieve Net Zero, we must inspire the public to take action

Smart Energy GB explain that we all have a part to play to help achieve net zero | Credit: Shutterstock

Robert Cheesewright, Director of Communications

Robert Cheesewright, Director of Communications | Smart Energy GB

4 min read Partner content

For the first time, smart meters are giving people the option of becoming active participants in the energy system. We must help everyone to embrace the opportunity

Climate change is the challenge of our age, and we all have a part to play in helping to meet our target of reaching Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Government and industry are key players, however, as COP26 approaches, and if we are serious about reaching Net Zero we need to actively support people in the transition.

At Smart Energy GB we are responsible for the national consumer campaign around the rollout of smart meters. The rollout is a major infrastructure upgrade for our energy system, and smart meters are a vital component in our Net Zero journey. Engaging the public has played a key part in the rollout so far and the lessons learnt should be applied to future Net Zero projects and programmes. 

People have not had to actively engage with their domestic energy use, but if we are to meet our Net Zero target then this needs to change

In its latest annual report, the Committee on Climate Change say that it will not be possible to reach Net Zero without engaging the public. Over half the changes they’ve identified actively involve the public, whether through buying electric cars, switching to electric heat pumps, or making different choices around things like air travel or a plant-centred diet.

In addition, more than 80% of people say they are concerned about climate change and three quarters are aware of the concept of ‘Net Zero’. Despite this, understanding and knowledge is lower than we might think. Only 4% of people know a lot about Net Zero, and one in five say they have heard of the concept but hardly know anything about it.

In addition, residential demand for electricity and natural gas from UK homes currently makes up almost 15% of our total carbon emissions, and on average each home is responsible for emitting four tonnes of CO2 each year.

Engaging people in the task of decarbonising our homes is vital, but challenging. Until recently, the main choice we have had to make in relation to energy is who supplies our gas and electricity. People have not had to actively engage with their domestic energy use, but if we are to meet our Net Zero target then this needs to change.

It will involve households reducing energy consumption where feasible, installing new technologies, and changing when energy is used. The near real-time information provided by smart meters about how much energy is being used supports informed changes to reduce household energy use.

For the first time, people have the option of becoming active participants in the energy system. And it’s not just about having to be actively engaged – we’re seeing more services offering to do the work for us in terms of finding the best/greenest tariffs, and auto-switching services that engage the dis-engaged and support people to make the most of their energy.

Smart meters are a foundation to new technologies and services that will also be able to support people to shift the time that they use more (or less) energy in other ways, for example, through smart home appliances, or when charging electric vehicles. Because the meters will be in almost everyone’s homes, it’s a step in the right direction to removing barriers to participating – it means that, to some extent, everyone has the opportunity and the choice to be part of this.

The future of energy is likely to become more complicated with a range of new tariffs and innovative products and services becoming available. That is why it is important that the public not only understand the reason for change, but there is also impartial support and advice available to support them through the transition – making sure that no one is left behind.

The public play an important role in the transition to Net Zero, and we will not reach this target without engaging and supporting them to take action. We need to take them on the journey by setting out an inspiring and exciting picture of what living in a Net Zero Great Britain will be like.

But we also need to be clear about exactly what needs to happen, and be honest that the journey may not be entirely smooth, but that it will be worth it. With cross-party and cross-sector support, the right policy framework and a national engagement campaign, we can help everyone embrace and access the benefits which come with a smart, modern energy system and support our progression to Net Zero.  


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