Saturday, May 28, 2011

Post # 70 - Study: For Many Consumers, Smart Grid Remains an "Empty Vessel"

Last year, EcoAlign, a strategic marketing agency, released a study finding that approximately 70 percent of Americans are not familiar with the term "smart grid."

Now, one year later, EcoAlign has released a follow-up study, Consumer Cents for Smart Grid, that finds that "customer awareness has barely budged over the past year."

EcoAlign conducted 1,000 online interviews in April 2011, with the sample (in the company's words) "balanced to match the U.S. population by age, gender, region and ethnicity." The primary objective was to test consumer perceptions and attitudes in regard to smart grid.

Extrapolating from the online interviews, EcoAlign concludes that only 35 percent of Americans are aware of the phrase “smart grid” in 2011 (compared to 31 percent in its 2010 study).

Moreover, when asked for the first word that came to mind when thinking about “smart grid”, consumers generally had a "largely functional (non- emotional) response." The most commonly mentioned word -- "by far," according to EcoAlign -- was “electricity." Other words and ideas were mentioned at much lower levels, and include “resource management,” “intelligent,” “efficient,” “energy,” “computer,” “energy efficient,” “tracks usage,” “technology,” and “green.”

Based on these responses, EcoAlign concludes that "Smart grid, for many Americans, remains an empty vessel that is yet to be filled with any value or significance."

At the same time, the study suggests that consumers could be sold on those elements of smart grid technology that could lead to lower energy costs.

EcoAlign finds that its respondents were extremely concerned or very concerned about the potential for rising utility bills -- 78 percent in 2011 as compared to 74 percent in 2010. In terms of attitudes towards their personal energy consumption, the most frequently chosen statement was "I am most concerned with saving money on my utility bill" (43 percent).

Among those who would like to receive suggestions from their utility company in terms of how to reduce their bill, they felt that in the short term "smart grid" would be most likely to help improve their utility's service by providing better billing and energy consumption information (34 percent) and more energy management options (30 percent).

Eight out of ten thought it would be extremely or very valuable to find out how smart grid would impact their bill, new pricing options that would give them the opportunity to save money, and what smart grid technology would cost.

While one fourth of consumers would allow the utility to control their high-use appliances automatically, another quarter would like notifications so they can make the adjustments themselves. An additional one third expressed willingness if the price paid was sufficient, while only 16 percent said they would never allow this.

At the same time, when respondents were asked to use one word to describe their biggest concern relative to smart grid, they indicated their top concerns included "privacy," "control/loss of control," "security," and even fear of "big brother." Moreover, when asked who should have access to their detailed energy consumption data, 65 percent responded "only the customer."

Beyond these specific findings, EcoAlign notes that, to date in the smart grid area, the utility industry largely has focused on "deployment and realizing benefits on the utility side of the meter." Going forward, however, EcoAlign concludes that the benefits of "leveraging real-time energy consumption data" can only be achieved if utilities and energy suppliers embrace consumer engagement.

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