Smart Energy Study: Unsatisfied customers and great potential of user innovation

Smart energy technologies such as intelligent electricity meters, smart home networking applications and smart home solutions not only promise to reduce your own power requirements. They also have the potential to make electricity generation and consumption more sustainable in the long term. The Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) and the co2online platform show what role users play in this process. The jointly published study “Smart Energy in Germany: How user innovations advance the energy revolution” describes great dissatisfaction among customers and at the same time the potential of proactive users. The study calls on politicians and industry to create better conditions for user innovations in the context of smart energy applications.

85 percent are interested in innovative solutions

“To better understand the needs and concerns of the user in the field of Smart Energy is central,” says Matti Große, co-author of the study. “Our study has found that many people are actively interested in the topic. Although 79 percent of respondents are conditional or totally dissatisfied with the current range of Smart Energy solutions and products, interest is very high,” said Große. According to the results of the study, 85 percent of respondents would like to see further innovative solutions in the field of smart energy.

Based on an online survey of people interested in energy in Germany, the study found that 29 percent of the study participants already use Smart Energy products or solutions. These digital solutions are used primarily by users to reduce and monitor their own energy consumption. Furthermore, professional interest or the fun and enthusiasm to deal with a technical energy problem play an important role.

In the study, the researchers show what a decisive role so-called user innovations could play in improving products and solutions. Prof. Dr. Hendrik Send, co-author of the study, explains that “users who innovate in the Smart Energy sector themselves can be a valuable resource. According to the study, 42 percent say they have had at least one idea of their own in the context of smart energy technologies within the last 3 years. Among the already active Smart Energy users, this figure is as high as 69 percent. Users become active right away: almost two thirds say they have already implemented their idea or are currently working on its implementation. They are mostly concerned with solving their own energy problems, having fun and expanding their knowledge.”

Better framework conditions and open source solutions

“However, the study also confirms a central problem of user innovations,” says Prof. Dr. Hendrik Send. “They are often a treasure waiting to be revealed. The innovation process usually ends when users have solved their problem. As a rule, they don’t think about the fact that their own problem solution can also be of interest to other users.” For this reason, the authors propose information campaigns which, on one hand, support users in their efforts, and at the same time inform the general public about these valuable activities.

Politics and business can also promote open innovation workshops to intensify the exchange between user innovators. The study also calls for institutional frameworks such as uniform standards, data interfaces and data protection regulations for Smart Energy applications to be clarified.

Companies can also help to draw on the potential of user innovations and use them for their own benefit, the authors urge. Open platforms and developer environments, similar to what we know from smartphones and tablets, could, for example, help to create suitable hardware and software solutions for individual application scenarios,” says Hendrik Send. “However, these open ecosystems will only work if standards are harmonised and data interfaces created.”

Matti Große concludes that “at this point we see the need for politics and business to work together to create the necessary regulatory framework conditions on the one hand, but also to provide the technical infrastructure on the other.”

The online survey on which the study is based was conducted from April to June 2017 and is not representative of the total population in Germany. The study is part of the research project “User Innovations for Smart Energy” sponsored by the innogy Foundation for Energy and Society.

Photo credit: Phil Dera /

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