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Americans More Interested in Smart Grid Jobs than Savings

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March 19, 2012

Americans More Interested in Smart Grid Jobs than Savings

By Cheryl Kaften, TMCnet Contributor

American homeowners are more interested in how the smart grid can help them earn money than in how it can help them monitor their electricity to save money, according to a survey by the nonprofit Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC).

According to the results of the organization’s Consumer Pulse Wave II poll, after hearing a series of 11 positive and six negative messages about the smart grid and smart meters, about 1,000 respondents cited two advantages as most important overall:

  • Smart grid projects will create tens of thousands of jobs and bring an estimated $12 billion to the U.S. economy over the next two years; and
  • Replacing components of our electricity grid that are decades old and wearing out with smarter technology in a timely way will help to ensure dependable, consistent power delivery.

The respondents -- all of them, self- identified as the heads of household at their present residences -- were contacted by landline and cellular phone by SGCC, which brings together consumer and environmental advocates, technology vendors, research laboratories, and electric utilities to accelerate the adoption of a consumer-safe and consumer-friendly smart grid.

The poll also determined the two worst-scenario fears of prospective smart meter users. They worry that utilities may look for a way to manage their customers’ electricity usage and that ordinary people risk “losing control” of their home power consumption. In addition, they fear that the smart grid and smart meters will enable utilities to invade their privacy by accessing and storing information from each household and business.

In general, respondents were more inclined to appreciate the benefits of smart meters when they learned more about them; however, most Americans have not increased their awareness or knowledge of the smart grid during the past year. Just roughly one-quarter of consumers contacted have a basic or complete understanding of the smart grid, while one-third have some understanding of smart meters.

The SGCC report points to lack of knowledge and disinformation as major obstacles to smart grid adoption. Not only is the smart grid a huge investment during a time of economic hardship, but—with no single strong entity taking the lead to tell the smart grid story and no “crisis to create urgency”— motivating consumers to take the lead, or even cooperate with deployments, will be very difficult.

Interestingly enough, region and gender have little influence on consumer favorability toward the smart grid. Specifically, the level of favorability in the Northeast is 53 percent; in the Midwest, 50 percent; in the South, 54 percent; and in the West, 60 percent. And men are only slightly more likely (56 percent) than women (52 percent) to have a good opinion of smart grids.

In examining how ethnicity affects opinions, the poll found a slightly wider range of favorability -- with 52 percent of Caucasians, 66 percent of African Americans, and 61 percent of Hispanics leaning toward the new technology.

Seventeen percent of respondents said that smart meters already had been installed in their homes. However, total satisfaction with the local utility was not significantly affected by whether a smart meter had been installed or not.

Broken down by demographic groups, the results were intriguing, with some unexpected age- and income-related similarities. In looking at the total importance of the smart grid:

  • The Easy Street segment cited “Limiting the need to invest in new power plants,”
  • DIY & Save: “Offers new kinds of rate plans,”
  • Concerned Greens:” Prevents some outages and reduces the length of others,”
  • Young America: “Offers new kinds of rate plans,” and
  • Traditionals: “Prevents some outages and reduces the length of others.”

When asked what their reason would be for paying for a smart meter, all but the Young America group cited “Makes it easier to connect renewable energy sources.” The youngest group of respondents was the only one to say that they would pay in order to realize future savings, selecting the phrase, “Saves money by providing near real-time energy usage information.”

 “We found that the most commonly-discussed benefits like cost-saving and greater power reliability, while important, represent only a part of a broader spectrum of smart grid and smart meter benefits that are appealing to the average consumer,” said SGCC Executive Director Patty Durand. “To achieve greater impact upon a diverse customer base, utilities should take care to bring these other benefits into their marketing messages.”

To download a summary of the report, visit the group’s website.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

Technology Marketing Corporation

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