Although we know a smarter, more connected grid is the inevitable future, the transition has been sluggish. There are many factors involved in the shift from an analog grid system to one that communicates with appliances as well as utilities to manage consumption. First, the installation of smart meters, which has been a rocky road unto itself, as well as utility compliance, availability of monitoring and tracking platforms, and affordability of smart devices that can be used to paint a more accurate picture of consumption in real time.

One thing not standing in the way of a smart grid rollout, according to the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC), is consumers. A new report from the non-profit organization finds that most consumers like smart technology and would be willing to participate in energy saving programs but they need more education about why and how.

smart meter, energy consumption, smart grid, data visualization
Image via davidberkowitz/Flickr

The 2013 State of the Consumer Report summarizes what SGCC knows about the smart grid from the consumers’ point of view as a result of five in-depth research studies and discussions with more than 4,000 U.S. residential consumers. They found significant support for smart grid efforts among consumers who have a good working knowledge of what it is, but that’s not as easy as it sounds.

Key findings include:

  • Awareness lags: About 75 percent of consumers either have never heard the term smart grid or don’t know what it means.
  • Benefits outweigh concerns:  When consumers are provided with information about the benefits and key concerns of smart grid, the positive statements are more persuasive and resonate better.
  • Low-income consumers require special focus: While similar to the general population in terms of general smart grid awareness, low-income consumers are different many ways, including communication preferences.
  • It’s not just about saving money:  SGCC research demonstrates that multiple smart grid benefits resonate with various segments and types of consumers.

The question that remains for utilities, as well as manufacturers of smart grid technologies, is how to overcome these barriers in a way that is inclusive and not overbearing.  We’ve already seen that in some areas, forcing residents to adopt smart meters and other energy tracking devices without significant education about their purpose and how they operate can result in opposition.

Some major utilities have now been compelled to provide costly opt-out programs for consumers who feel the meters are a health threat or invasion of privacy. No home owner should be forced to do something against their principles, but perhaps a softer, more education oriented approach would have prevented this backlash and facilitated more seamless roll out.

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