Smart meters could be used to monitor energy usage patterns to help the most vulnerable continue to live safely in their homes, a new study has found.

Smart Energy GB’s Smart Future of Healthcare report, which was conducted by independent thinktank 2020health, found smart meters could be used to monitor consumer behaviour for signs of deviation, which may indicate there is a health issue.

Specifically, the report found, the devices could be used to identify those with early onset dementia.

Under the proposals, usage data from smart meters would be fed into a wider system which could recognise patterns of appliance use over time and start to learn people’s daily routines.

For example, the use of kitchen appliances such as the kettle or toaster during the night could indicate insomnia, pain or mental health problems. An increase of energy use in late evenings or at night could indicate ‘sundowning’ syndrome, which is often a sign of progression from early stages of Alzheimer’s to more serious deterioration. Complete inactivity of appliances such as the TV or oven could indicate a fall, stroke or acute illness.

If unusual patterns of usage are identified, relatives or medical staff could be alerted.

The report suggests that with consumer consent, the data could improve care for people living with conditions such as dementia, making it easier for more people to live independently in their homes for longer.

It also highlights how the devices can be used to identify those in fuel poverty, namely that energy consumption patterns analysed with housing and historical weather data may provide enough information to enable the remote detection of cold homes and unhealthy living environments.

It goes on to make several recommendations including calling on Ofgem to ensure robust data security and opt-in regulations around the sharing of data with third parties.

Iagan MacNeil, head of policy at Smart Energy GB, said: “We’re calling for cross-sector innovation and collaboration among our world-class research centres and healthcare providers in order to develop this technological potential. For care providers, innovators and funders alike, now is the time to start thinking now about how energy data can be utilised to support care services.”

Julia Manning, director of 2020health and member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council, said: “Our aging society indicates a future of much greater healthcare need, and smart meter technology could prove useful in making it easier and safer for people with conditions, such as dementia, to live independently in their homes for longer, delaying transition to the care home setting and providing peace of mind to family and loved ones.

“Harnessing this technology could bring benefits to all: patients, caregivers, family members and healthcare providers across the UK.”

Installation statistics

According to the latest statistics from Electralink almost a quarter of a million (247,000) smart meters were installed in October – 7 per cent more than the previous month and the highest so far this year.

Following nationwide restrictions at the end of March, the rollout took a massive hit – decreasing by 95 per cent in May. Following the lifting of lockdown, the rollout showed signs of recovery.

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