Most Americans Have Never Heard of the Smart Grid

SANTA CLARA, CA — Nearly 70 percent of Americans have never heard the phrase "smart grid," but once they learn more, they come to expect it to carry significant benefits and save them money.

A recent survey of Americans from EcoAlign revealed ample opportunity to positively define the smart grid for the public. It also uncovered several obstacles companies must overcome as smart technologies reach greater market penetration.

The company defines smart grid as the "larger network of interconnected devices in homes, businesses and communities that will allow service providers to offer new applications, including new billing and payment options."

"Consumers conceptually like the idea of smart grid," Jamie Wimberly, EcoAlign's CEO and author of the report, said in a statement Tuesday. "But the report also highlighted three critical challenges: meeting consumer expectations of smart grid to lower costs or cut energy consumption; moving beyond the commodity (smart meters) to a much fuller value proposition (smart grid); and aligning the smart grid with smart communications and marketing that recognizes personal preferences and needs."

The survey of 1,000 Americans found that the ability to review energy consumption appealed to half of respondents. They described the smart grid positively, with words such as "great" and "happy."

But they expect the smart grid to reduce energy bills, so utilities face the challenge of delivering on this expectation despite potential increases in other costs that may offset the savings.

"Consumers now expect smart grid to lower their bills and reduce their consumption," the report said. "If smart grid does not reduce monthly utility bills, or as importantly, is not perceived to because the savings either are not visible or swamped by other underlying cost drivers, smart grid will likely be seen as a costly failure by many consumers and stakeholders."

Companies must also get consumers to think about the smart grid beyond the smart meters, which have seen a spate of negative publicity for defective or improperly installed units that had led to higher energy bills for some.

"Smart grid will need to be more than simply information management to justify the cost from a consumer perspective," the report said.

Utilities and energy companies will also need to improve two-way communications with consumers to live up to the "smart" moniker.

"Yet the current ability of utilities and energy suppliers to deliver and communicate the way consumers increasingly prefer is oftentimes limited by back office infrastructure, and as importantly," the report said, "by an industry culture that has not had to be consumer-focused for decades."

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Tom Raftery.