Saturday, September 3, 2011

Post # 80 - New IBM Study Shows Continuing Consumer Confusion Over Smart Grid

A new IBM survey of 10,000 people in 15 countries – Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States – shows that consumers remain confused about what a smart grid is and what it means to them.

Sixty percent of those surveyed did not know the meaning of the terms “smart grid” or “smart meters.” Somewhat inconsistently the study also indicates that more than 50% of respondents still expect the deployment of smart grids and smart meters to foster development of clean energy technologies, and over 60% believe that these technologies will benefit their families. But 50% didn’t understand the term “time of use pricing” – a key concept in the debate on how consumers can benefit from the installation of smart meters (for a link to discussions of time-of-use or "dynamic" pricing, see here) – while 30% were unaware of the basic mechanism used for charging for electricity–the amount paid per kilowatt hour.

Saving money was noted as having one of the highest levels of influence on respondents making changes to their energy usage behavior (62%), though it was no longer the dominating factor. This was consistent with almost all of the countries in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. National economic considerations were important to more respondents (51-55%) than environmental and natural resource considerations (43-51%), although how these two ranked relative to each other differed by age group.

Information sent directly to consumers by the provider (bill and inserts) remained the top reported single influence across all of the countries with more than one-third of respondents using energy bills and inserts to source information about energy costs, environmental impact, and alternative suppliers. However, reliance on traditional media (television, newspapers/magazines, etc.), internet-based sources (non-provider web sites, social media, etc.), and opinions of friends and family in aggregate outweigh the influence of direct-contact sources like bill inserts and provider web sites.

Most of the relative rankings of information sources remained consistent across age groups, but a few notable exceptions emerged. The two most significant age variations were found in the influence of government information sources (ranked fifth among those 35 or older, eighth among those 25-34, and last among those 18-24) and friends and family (fifth among those 18-34, seventh among those 35-54, and ninth among those 55 and over).

More than half of the respondents do not know if their energy provider has a green energy program that is available to them – and almost a quarter of those who participate in green energy programs have no idea if they pay a premium for that power, or how much more they pay. At the same time, customers who were most knowledgeable were 42% more likely to have a positive opinion of local deployment programs underway or proposed, 51% more likely to believe that these programs would bring benefits to their family, and 64% more likely to change energy usage patterns to meet specific goals. Forty-two percent of the respondents are committed to engaging more with their providers to meet their personal goals and objectives, while 33% are not likely to take added responsibility for these decisions in the short to mid term.

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