Summer is traditionally a time when energy bills fall should, at least temporarily, from the top spot they seemed to occupy on the news agenda throughout much of last winter.
But despite this, the constant pressure on people to reduce their energy use and become greener remains. Just last week the Energy Saving Trust released a new study showing that the UK wastes £1.6 billion by not fully switching off computers, televisions and other electronic devices.
Whilst this type of research may come as no particular surprise to many of us, and whether driven by the need to save money or by the desire to be greener, energy saving is high on many people's agendas, where it is likely to remain for the foreseeable future as the cost of energy rises.
But one vital missing link remains. With very little, if any, information about how they are using and wasting energy and what the impact of any energy-saving steps they take has on usage, it's little surprise that many people are left feeling in the dark about how they can cut back and get a better control of their bills.
At the heart of the issue is the fact that the UK's energy industry remains woefully outdated. Outdated both in its old-fashioned and in some instances, antiquated, infrastructure and in its approach to dealing with and interacting with customers.
Thankfully, it appears that progress is now being made, with one example being the roll-out of smart meters which is now gathering momentum ahead of the 2019 deadline for the technology to be in place in all households. The advance of smart metering is set to help bring greater clarity together with accurate bills, and it's based partly on this type of approach that the UK has recently seen the launch of a pioneering new technology from the US which is taking energy supply to new frontiers.
First Utility's my:energy programme was launched in the UK recently following our partnership with Opower, the American-based clean tech firm which has partnered with over 70 utility companies in the US. Although a European-first, the technology is in use by over 10 million households in the US, and has saved customers over $140 million.
Back in the UK, the implementation of the technology will see energy customers receive information detailing how their usage compares to similar nearby homes, together with personalised tips on how to reduce energy consumption. Tips are tailored depending on the type of house and heating a customer has, and whether they own or rent the property.
All of the tips have a clear indication of the monetary savings that can be made, and with the programme encouraging customers to set a reduction goal and the ability to track spend month on month (day by day where smart meters are installed) it really brings energy saving to life.
Further proactive prompts to take action include regular emails, posted paper reports and seasonal SMS messaging with reminders and tips
Recent field research by Dr. Robert Metcalfe of the University of Oxford and Professor Paul Dolan of the London School of Economics, identified that energy consumption is reduced by around 5 per cent after consumers receive information with their bills comparing their energy usage to their neighbours'. Consumption dropped further still when personalised advice was included in the bills.
Over the coming months, further functionality will be added, including an unusual usage alert, allowing customers to receive emails and SMS messages to warn them when their energy usage is higher than normal. But even now, the potential if the technology was to be rolled out widely in the UK is considerable. Based on the extensive track record of the system in the US, it's estimated that UK households could save £1.7 billion on their energy bills and 3 million tonnes of carbon over a three year period.
It's vital that energy suppliers find better ways to engage with their consumers if they want to garner longer-term and longer-lasting relationships with them. Energy customers have historically had extremely transactional and disengaged relationships with energy suppliers, and it's high time that people are empowered to better understand, engage and, crucially, to take control of their energy bills once and for all.
The starting point is giving customers better information. After all, it's hard to cut back on something you can't measure in the first place.