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New smart meter tells Brits exactly what they already know

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We're all going to be much richer thanks to British Gas, which will push kit from Cambridge startup AlertMe into 10,000 homes this summer. The rollout will reach the rest of the energy giant's ten million customers in the autumn.

Not that AlertMe is guaranteed to be supplying all the kit, which will integrate with smart meters to display customers' gas and electricity consumption. However, being selected for the trial is a significant win even though the two companies already work together - AlertMe provides 'leccy consumption displays to some British Gas punters.

British Gas, in common with the other UK suppliers, is committed to fitting so-called smart meters to homes over the next seven years. Those meters can be read and controlled remotely, which has sparked some security fears, but AlertMe's touchscreen-fitted component is supposed to be the friendly customer-facing side of the tech: by telling us how much we're using, it's hoped to radically reduce our energy consumption.

"Big data innovation to provide simple, personalised insights, to help consumers save millions on energy bills," says the press release in breathless prose, in the knowledge that the only thing preventing us from switching off lights, or hanging the washing out on a line, is the lack of a Web 2.0 front-end to tell us how much juice we're burning.

"We can take the smart meter information, put it in context and make the most relevant recommendations to help customers make simple decisions that can save them a lot of money," says AlertMe, which also offers a Zigbee-based hub and monitoring plugs (£50 and £25 a pop respectively) that tie into the company's servers (over the user's broadband) for rendering into web browsers or the inevitable iPhone app.

One can't help but notice parallels with the government's vegetable helpline, which was intended to encourage people to eat vegetables but was little used. It turns out that most of us know we should eat more greens and less fat, but we still choose not to. Being reminded about our electricity usage might remind us to cut back, but the monthly bill is often enough for that and it's a game of diminishing returns.

But the government, along with industry, thinks differently and is pinning a lot on the promise of smart consumption monitoring, and if we don't all respond to the gentle chiding of the iPhone app then there's always the smart meter itself which could cut off the supply without so much as a knock on the door. ®

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