Looking across the energy landscape, smart meters, big data, online portals and other technological advances have provided consumers an ever-increasing set of options to be empowered and connected with their energy usage and one step closer to the realization of the promise of a smarter grid. Over the course of 2014, Smart Grid Consumer Collaboratives (SGCC) research indicated that consumer engagement is growing. This is good news because as engagement grows more consumers will understand the economic, reliability and environmental benefits that grid modernization offers.
Our research shows that consumers across the board report high interest in:
1. The ability to save money through Smart Grid-enabled technologies such as smart appliances and programs such as time-of-use pricing.
2. Improvements in the environmental performance of electricity generation through the integration of more clean but variable resources such as solar PV and wind.
3. Greater reliability made possible by the Smart Grids remote sensing and control abilities.
How do we connect this consumer interest with a growing consumer-centric utility business model? SGCC commissioned five pieces of research throughout 2014 to assist smart grid stakeholders understand and engage consumers, culminating in our 5th annual 2015 Consumer Symposium: Consumer Value in Action, on Monday, Feb. 2. The event was co-located with DistribuTECH at the Convention Center, in San Diego, California.
One of the major highlights of the Symposium was the unveiling of SGCCs 2015 State of the Consumer Report. The report is an integrated analysis of what SGCC knows about consumer trends related to the Smart Grid after conducting in-depth research studies and talking to more than 7,000 U.S. residential consumers to date. The research revealed seven key themes that highlight the current state of the smart grid consumer:
Theme 1 Despite generally low awareness, consumers are realizing Smart Grid benefits
Although grid modernization efforts continue across the country and many consumers are currently benefitting from the technology upgrades awareness of the terms smart grid and smart meter remain low. However, consumers appear to be experiencing many of the economic, environmental, and reliability benefits the technology brings, regardless of whether they realize that its the Smart Grid at work.
Theme 2 Consumer interest in Smart Grid benefits remains strong
Consumers are not only increasingly seeing the economic, environmental, and reliability benefits from smart grid investments, they remain very interested in receiving more of these benefits. Interestingly, regardless of their psychographic segment, consumers report that the one smart grid benefit that they are most willing to pay for is the ability to increase the amount of renewable generation resources connected to the grid.
Theme 3 Consumer segmentation matters and utilities are increasingly able to apply it
SGCCs forthcoming Consumer Pulse and Market Segmentation Study Wave V research has identified five new consumers segments based on consumers common attitudes, values and behaviors related to the smart grid. By using these segments, smart grid stakeholders can now develop more effective programs, services, products and messaging that appeal to the specific characteristics of these groups.
Theme 4 Design matters to consumer acceptance
To accelerate consumer acceptance of smart grid-enabled programs and technologies, stakeholders need to offer consumers control and ease of use. For example, critical peak rebates are of greater interest to consumers than critical peak pricing because the former offers consumers the ability to control their financial benefit without incurring a penalty if they do not act.
Theme 5 Consumer motivations can drive engagement
Just as consumers fall on a spectrum of engagement, so too do their motivations. Fortunately, SGCC data provides two key strategies for leveraging the full spectrum of consumer motivations:
1. Create messages about current smart grid-enabled programs and technologies focusing on their money-saving potential coupled with future-oriented benefits such as environmental and generational stewardship.
2. Develop new programs and technologies emphasizing ease-of-use and communicate the convenience and control these new offerings provide consumers.
Theme 6 Life stage barriers impact engagement
Despite being favorably inclined to engage with their utility and energy management, many consumers are unable to do so because of constraints on their time, their finances, and/or their home-ownership/rental status. Stakeholders should consider how to overcome these constraints to engage certain customers.
Theme 7 Vulnerable populations have specific needs
Low income and senior consumers have specific needs that differ from those of the general population. Design and marketing efforts for smart grid-enabled programs and technologies need to consider these needs in order to ensure that smart grid benefits reach these populations.
SGCCs research as cited in this report provides a much more defined picture of Smart Grid consumers than stakeholders have previously had. The industry is increasingly moving from questions of how to communicate Smart Grid more broadly towards understanding how to provide compelling benefits to consumers based on technology investments that have already been made.
Ultimately, these key themes convey that smart grid stakeholders must take a consumer-centric approach to driving engagement in order to foster and advance consumer knowledge, favorability and adoption of a modern grid and ensure long-lasting sustainable benefits. Looking ahead, education and engagement are the main drivers that will connect smart-grid industry stakeholders in facilitating two-way dialogue with consumers and adoption of grid modernization efforts across the U.S.
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