Navigant: Consumers’ Knowledge of Smart Grids Continues to Lag

Utility companies and the nation’s power grid might be getting smarter, but consumers don’t seem particularly interested. That’s according to a national survey tracking consumer opinions about smart meters, renewable energy, and demand management technologies.

Navigant Research, the Boulder, CO-based energy market analysis division of Navigant Consulting (NYSE: NCI), authored the report. The company was formerly Pike Research before Navigant bought and rebranded it.

The study is an annual snapshot of what people think about new technologies in the energy industry. The survey reached 1,001 people and was a demographically balanced and nationally representative survey, according to Navigant Research.

For people with high hopes that smart-grid technology can cut energy usage, the report was a mix of good and bad news. Consumers remain interested in home energy management and cutting their electric bill, but they are not as knowledgeable about (or interested in) adopting technology, practices, and policies that would be necessary. And as industry analysts have seen, interest drops and negativity rises as potential costs increase.

Navigant Research found nearly three-fourths of consumers were concerned about how much they were paying for electricity, and 63 percent were interested in managing energy use. But less than half were aware that utilities offered demand management programs, and fewer than 40 percent had a high level of interest in participating in such programs.

Consumers also remain tepid about using smart meters, the key interface between utilities and consumers. Navigant Research estimates about 53 million smart meters will be in the field by the end of the year.

Some utilities around the country have faced a backlash against smart meters in the late 2000s when they tried to introduce them as part of pilot projects, but those feelings aren’t pervasive and seem to be abating, the report found. About two-thirds of consumers have favorable or neutral opinions about the devices, which is an improvement over past years.

“Less than ten percent of the respondents have an unfavorable opinion of smart grids and smart meters, which is an encouraging sign for utilities and policymakers,” Navigant Research senior research analyst Neil Strother said in a media release. “However, utilities still have a long way to go in persuading a majority of their customers that they should approach these technologies with enthusiasm.”

Installing meters is one thing, but getting consumers to learn to use them effectively to manage energy use and minimize cost has been a challenge. The survey found 30 percent of respondents were not familiar with smart grids and 24 percent were not familiar with smart meters.

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