How Well Do Utilities Talk About the Smart Grid?

As background for a large Green Research study of consumer attitudes about smart meters and the smart grid, I looked at utility Web sites to see how utilities were talking to their customers about the smart grid.

There are nearly as many benefits of smart meters as there are utility companies, according to my survey. Across 25 utility company Web sites, some 20 or so distinct benefits were listed, from improved meter accuracy to saving money.

It was interesting to see how utility claims aligned with consumer attitudes, and where they didn’t.

The most popular claim from the utilities I looked at, by 14 of the 25 utilities, was that smart meters would enable consumers to manage their own electricy use better. Some examples:

Southern California Edition – “…you can better manage your electricity use through new tools, programs and services”

Georgia Power – “You’ll be able to better manage your energy usage and control your energy bill.”

American Electric Power –  “It is designed to give customers greater control over their energy usage and ultimately their bills…”

Duke Energy – “…provide customers with additional information that may help them use energy more efficiently…”

My research suggests that these utilities are right to promote the ability of smart meters to help consumers better manage their energy use by giving them better information. Consumers in the focus groups we conducted responded very favorably to the idea that better information would give them greater control over their energy use. And nearly two-thirds of consumers nationally who already have smart meters in their homes say they find the benefit of receiving actual rather than estimated bills “extremely valuable ” or “very valuable.”

The ability of smart meters to enable new rate plans was the second-most common benefit touted on utility Web sites. Eleven utilities made that claim, including these:

Alliant Energy – “New and improved rate options and programs”

Dominion – “In the future, Dominion may offer dynamic rates which will help you save on your monthly bill if you conserve power during high-demand periods.”

Alabama Power – “Once the program is installed, we’ll be able to offer innovative rate options that meet your lifestyle.”

Consumers are keen on saving money, and if they believe they can do so with time of use plans, they will be interested. About half the smart meter consumers in our study said they found the prospect very or extremely valuable. On the other hand, the most widespread concern consumers have about smart meters is that they may lead to higher bills. And a quarter of the respondents to our survey who cited such concerns said their concerns would be allayed if they were not forced to switch to a a time of use plan. Utilities need to proceed with caution when they speak about time of use plans.

Despite well publicized concerns about privacy risks associated with smart meters and consumer data, utilities deploying smart meters often make the claim that smart meters can actually improve consumer privacy, by making it unncessary to send workers to consumers’ property to read their meters. Nine of 25 utilities looked at made this claim. Apparently, the claim is plausable to consumers. Over 40 percent of smart meter consumers say they find such a benefit very or extremely valuable.

San Diego Gas & Electric – “More Privacy: Because smart meters send information electronically to SDG&E daily, SDG&E’s meter readers will no longer have to enter your property.”

DTE Energy – “…less intrusive for you. Once installation is complete, DTE Energy will not enter your yard, home or business on a regular basis.”

Oncor – “Eliminates a person coming to read meter at your property”

Our research discovered that consumers want to understand not only how they might benefit from smart meters but why utilities are backing smart meter deployments. Utilities would do well to emphasize that the smart grid can help them operate more efficiently and respond faster to power outages. Only 6 of the utilities we looked at emphasized faster outage response time as a benefit.

If you’d like to know more, or are interested in tailored program to improve your understanding your own customers’ attitudes, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line.

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1 Comment

Filed under efficiency, grid, smart meters

One response to “How Well Do Utilities Talk About the Smart Grid?

  1. Pingback: Dear Utilities, Get with the program — ecoINSITE

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