Government Technology

Americans' Awareness of Smart Grid Lagging, Survey Finds



June 28, 2010 By

Utility companies are racing to install digital technology that promises to make consumers more informed about their electricity usage -- an effort that in some cases is being funded by government grants.

Ironically a recent survey suggests that a majority of Americans aren't aware of these smart meters, the next-generation technology that makes it possible for two-way communication between households and utility companies. And they also don't know about the smart grid, the interconnected IT backbone and network that will make the smart meters possible.

In fact, 70 percent of Americans haven't even heard the phrase "smart grid" before, according to 1,000 online interviews done by marketing agency EcoAlign and Russell Research in May to gauge consumer perceptions and expectations of smart grid technology. The results were published in a report, Separating Smart Grid from Smart Meters? Consumer Perceptions and Expectations of Smart Grid.

According to EcoAlign's CEO Jamie Wimberly, the lagging awareness is mainly because there aren't enough smart meters installed yet for people to get an understanding, much less a smart grid as a whole to connect them to.

"They haven't heard about it yet because in their communities they don't have smart grid yet. There hasn't been a rationale or context in order to talk with Americans about what smart grid is," he said.

The 30 percent of respondents who said they knew of the smart grid are concerned about how much it will cost them, and how it will protect their privacy.

"Anything in the utility space doesn't really generate a lot of interest or excitement traditionally just because people get their bills, they pay them, and they don't really think too much about that," Wimberly said. "It's a pretty low engagement-type transaction or relationship."

He also believes the definitions of smart grids and smart meters haven't been packaged in consumer-friendly forms, so that people will pay attention to them. The technology itself, in his opinion, is "fairly technical, inward-looking and somewhat complex."

EcoAlign informed its survey respondents that the smart grid and smart meters allow people to view electricity usage and manage their bills and provides them with "new products and savings options, including management of renewable energy or energy saving devices in the home."

And one thing many respondents did understand is that the smart grid could allow them to save money on their power bills. When people were asked to use one word to describe how they felt about the smart grid, the biggest response was "savings" and other words that popped up often were "happy," "great" and "good." But when asked to provide one word to describe their biggest concerns, the top words were "cost," "expensive," "expense," "price," "privacy" and "control."

The smart grid has the power to deliver detailed energy-use information over the Internet to consumers and utility companies and private companies. But it could also create a new type of data that cyber-criminals could steal, much like financial or medical information.

"You can't pick up the paper these days without some kind of security breach or marketing issue, and that provides the overall context about how they're going to view their personal data coming off a smart grid. It's a part of a whole, and that whole is certainly moving fairly quickly toward greater security concerns," Wimberly said.

As smart meters are installed in more communities -- The Denver Post reported that 52 million smart meters would be installed across the country by 2015 -- they'll arrive at the homes of consumers who could have overblown expectations or exaggerated fears about them. Or the skeptics could, in fact, be right on target.

"I would not necessarily be messaging to your whole service territory, all the customers, about smart meter or smart grid when they're not going to even get it for years. I would be much more targeted and tactical about how you message to those people that are getting it," Wimberly said.

 

Photo by Tom Raftery. CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

 


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Comments

Sean Smith    |    Commented June 29, 2010

I have been following the development of the Smart Grid with some interest and even more trepidation. The government has been pushing this technology by emphasizing the cost savings (naturally), but they haven't been nearly as forthcoming with the other side of that coin -- namely that the Smart Grid will give the government not just the ability to monitor an individual household's energy use, but also the ability to limit it.

Tucked into an obscure section of the Cap and Trade legislation is language that states in effect that the Secretary [of Energy, I presume] will have the authority to determine appropriate levels of energy consumption. They're not just talking about corporations here -- not that I think the government should be able to determine "acceptable" energy use for corporations either -- they mean for *everybody*. I don't want the government to be able to say, "Well, it looks like Mr. Smith is using too much heat this January; let's cut him off."

If that sounds like paranoia to you, ask yourself this: Two years ago, would you have believed that the federal government had the authority to fire the CEO of a private corporation? To nationalize the automobile industry? To rewrite shareholder contracts in order to redistribute Chrysler's assets away from its secured shareholders and toward the UAW? To cap private sector executive pay via a "pay czar"? To nationalize the student loan program, making it *illegal* for private banks to make student loans? To force the chairman of a private corporation to cough up $20 billion without due process of law, much less approval from that corporation's board of directors or shareholders, into a fund the distribution of which that corporation will have absolutely no say?

The sheer unbridled lust for power this current government is displaying -- and its apparent refusal to acknowledge any limits on that power -- is frightening. Giving them the Smart Grid will give them the ability not just to monitor our energy usage, but to determine what that usage will be. Does anyone seriously think that if the government has that power they will refrain from using it?

Sean Smith    |    Commented June 29, 2010

I have been following the development of the Smart Grid with some interest and even more trepidation. The government has been pushing this technology by emphasizing the cost savings (naturally), but they haven't been nearly as forthcoming with the other side of that coin -- namely that the Smart Grid will give the government not just the ability to monitor an individual household's energy use, but also the ability to limit it.

Tucked into an obscure section of the Cap and Trade legislation is language that states in effect that the Secretary [of Energy, I presume] will have the authority to determine appropriate levels of energy consumption. They're not just talking about corporations here -- not that I think the government should be able to determine "acceptable" energy use for corporations either -- they mean for *everybody*. I don't want the government to be able to say, "Well, it looks like Mr. Smith is using too much heat this January; let's cut him off."

If that sounds like paranoia to you, ask yourself this: Two years ago, would you have believed that the federal government had the authority to fire the CEO of a private corporation? To nationalize the automobile industry? To rewrite shareholder contracts in order to redistribute Chrysler's assets away from its secured shareholders and toward the UAW? To cap private sector executive pay via a "pay czar"? To nationalize the student loan program, making it *illegal* for private banks to make student loans? To force the chairman of a private corporation to cough up $20 billion without due process of law, much less approval from that corporation's board of directors or shareholders, into a fund the distribution of which that corporation will have absolutely no say?

The sheer unbridled lust for power this current government is displaying -- and its apparent refusal to acknowledge any limits on that power -- is frightening. Giving them the Smart Grid will give them the ability not just to monitor our energy usage, but to determine what that usage will be. Does anyone seriously think that if the government has that power they will refrain from using it?

Sean Smith    |    Commented June 29, 2010

I have been following the development of the Smart Grid with some interest and even more trepidation. The government has been pushing this technology by emphasizing the cost savings (naturally), but they haven't been nearly as forthcoming with the other side of that coin -- namely that the Smart Grid will give the government not just the ability to monitor an individual household's energy use, but also the ability to limit it.

Tucked into an obscure section of the Cap and Trade legislation is language that states in effect that the Secretary [of Energy, I presume] will have the authority to determine appropriate levels of energy consumption. They're not just talking about corporations here -- not that I think the government should be able to determine "acceptable" energy use for corporations either -- they mean for *everybody*. I don't want the government to be able to say, "Well, it looks like Mr. Smith is using too much heat this January; let's cut him off."

If that sounds like paranoia to you, ask yourself this: Two years ago, would you have believed that the federal government had the authority to fire the CEO of a private corporation? To nationalize the automobile industry? To rewrite shareholder contracts in order to redistribute Chrysler's assets away from its secured shareholders and toward the UAW? To cap private sector executive pay via a "pay czar"? To nationalize the student loan program, making it *illegal* for private banks to make student loans? To force the chairman of a private corporation to cough up $20 billion without due process of law, much less approval from that corporation's board of directors or shareholders, into a fund the distribution of which that corporation will have absolutely no say?

The sheer unbridled lust for power this current government is displaying -- and its apparent refusal to acknowledge any limits on that power -- is frightening. Giving them the Smart Grid will give them the ability not just to monitor our energy usage, but to determine what that usage will be. Does anyone seriously think that if the government has that power they will refrain from using it?


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