University of Melbourne Magazine

Are smart meters changing consumer habits?

  • Alumnus Yann Burden, founder of energy software and services company Billcap.

    Alumnus Yann Burden, founder of energy software and services company Billcap.

    A team of researchers from the University of Melbourne is leading large-scale field experiments to evaluate how consumers respond to smart meter technologies.

    The joint research project with energy software and services company Billcap, was recently awarded funding of $177,000 over four years, under the Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Projects scheme. Billcap was founded by alumnus, Yann Burden (Bachelor of Information Systems, 1998).

    Energy economists Dr David Byrne and Dr Leslie Martin will analyse how consumers use electricity, opt for new pricing plans and switch retailers. They are working closely with Dr Tony Wirth and his team from the Department of Computing and Information Systems.

    “Alongside traditional data, smart meters now generate vast quantities of detailed energy consumption information,” Dr Wirth said.

    Dr Wirth said that in order to draw out patterns of existing energy usage and to predict future behaviour accurately, he and his team in the Department of Computing and Information Systems would be making use of their research strengths in the big-data field.

    “The results will have important implications for environmental policies designed to conserve energy, for consumer choice and welfare, and for retail market competitiveness,” Dr Martin explained.

    Billcap Chief Executive Officer, Yann Burden, said the project will have a profound impact on the electricity sector.

    “We are pleased that Billcap’s research programs have been recognised, and will continue to drive innovation in the energy and software industry here in Australia,” he said.

    “The energy industry has long theorised on the impact of smart meters and related technologies. This research aims to deliver concrete insights to benefit both consumers and the energy industry.”

    Billcap was launched in 2010 in Melbourne in the heart of the contestable energy market to provide smart-meter enabled customer engagement and retention services for energy retailers.

    At the time, Mr Burden said he could see there was clear benefit to energy retailers from Smart Meter technology, but little thought had gone into how benefit could be delivered to the end user. He said he established Billcap to try to fill that gap.

    The Linkage Projects scheme provides funding to eligible organisations to support research and development projects, which are collaborative between higher education researchers and other parts of the national innovation system.