As consumers become increasingly connected with the ability to solve a multitude of problems at the touch of a button, the issue of sustainability and energy usage is one that is not going ignored.

Indeed, electricity continues to play an integral part in the modern family home. As predicted in Mintel’s 2015 consumer trends, manufacturers including BSH, LG, Electrolux and Samsung are beginning to develop white goods for ‘the connected home’, enabling consumers to control appliances from their smartphones.

Understanding energy and how we use it

Looking to learn more about how consumers use energy is the smart energy housing project in Stockholm, backed by a cross-industry consortium. The ultimate aim of the project is to understand how to make it as simple as possible for people to conduct their lives in a more energy-efficient way. The project’s goals are challenging; Stockholm Royal Seaport is aiming to be fossil free by 2030.

The appliances we use in the home account for a high proportion of the domestic electricity bill. Savings are already being made by improved energy efficiency, but a smart appliance can do even more than this. By sharing data via an internet connection, these appliances can be programmed to switch on when energy is cheaper and to share information with other home appliances. They can get messages from the grid about which power sources are being used at the time, and so be switched on when energy is ‘greener’. In addition, a smart appliance can transmit information that consumers can understand and so by measuring their usage or the costs of energy in real time, they can reshape their habits.

Are ‘smart’ appliances part of the energy solution?

Demonstrating this within The Stockholm Royal Docks development are 150 apartments which are kitted out with the latest appliances and energy monitors. Participating in the project as a Premier member of the Alliance is the UK home appliances company Electrolux who are contributing smart appliances to the scheme.

The latest appliances include smart plugs that can turn off machines in standby mode or switch off lights when they aren’t being used. Smart thermostats can lower the temperature in the apartment when people sleep or while they are out. Plus smart washing machines, dryers and chargers can be set to run when demand is lowest and electricity is cheap. Alternatively, the appliances can run when there is a lot of clean electricity in the system, for example electricity generated by wind or tidal generators.

Families participating are equipped with a tablet device that shows how much energy they’re using and at what cost. Each family is then able to personalise their energy usage, using the smart appliances. This enables both the consumers and the energy companies to understand the amount of energy needs, which will ultimately feed into the global project for improving energy.

Consumers and energy

We find that for consumers, the notion of energy efficiency is popular when they are choosing appliances. For example, over half of UK consumers with a cooker at home see high energy efficiency rating as a factor influencing their next choice of cooker. Consumers are motivated by making savings on their utility bills and an energy-saving device makes it easy for them to achieve this aim without having to think more about it.

As well as this, according to Mintel’s Device Integration and the Connected Home UK 2015 report, 30% of people say they don’t have a smart appliance in their home but would be interested in buying one, while another 13% have one. And one of the main motivations for wanting a smart appliance is to save on energy bills.

On the other hand however, sceptics are comfortable with their current situation and feel that they don’t want to be inundated with information and that a connected home may be too much effort to manage. There is also a cost barrier – some, particularly those on lower incomes, believe it will be too expensive to buy the equipment.

A good move for Electrolux?

Electrolux’s involvement in the Swedish research will enable them and other partners to make significant advancements in their understanding of the smart home. Not only this, but their brand image will be enhanced for people who are keen on the idea of smart appliances and the connected home. They could also enjoy a ‘greener’ reputation by association, important for those with a conscience of looking after the planet.

However, skeptical consumers may feel that Electrolux is shifting too fast into high-tech territory and may not be so comfortable with the implications of losing control, or being overwhelmed by data.

Marketing therefore must emphasise saving money and the planet but also that people still retain options to choose and control how the appliances help them. Information overload can be avoided with editing of frequency and content of alerts about energy usage.

Jane Westgarth, Senior Retail Analyst at Mintel’s, career in retail and consumer markets has included roles as a Senior Retail Analyst and a Marketing and Retail Consultant to a variety of large and small organisations. For the last twenty five years she has applied her expertise and knowledge of retailing, branding and marketing communications to create analysis and insight for Mintel reports. She understands what makes consumers tick and what influences their buying decisions.