Utilities cannot broadcast one broad smart grid message to consumers and expect it to resonate with everyone, according to a report just released by the San Diego-based Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC). Tailoring programs and messages to address consumers’ diverse concerns—among them, cost, comfort, and the environment—can help the benefits of the next-generation grid to, literally, hit home.
The SGCC is a not-for-profit industry group with the mission of accelerating the adoption of a consumer-friendly smart grid. Released just this week, “The 2013 State of the Consumer Report” summarizes the findings of five in-depth research studies conducted last year, representing responses from a cumulative 4,000 U.S. residential consumers.
Based on the conviction that the “one size fits all” approach to consumer smart grid marketing does not work, the collaborative recommends dividing residential electricity customers into five distinct communications segments—defined by attitudes, values, behaviors, motivations, lifestyles, shopping preferences, demographics, technology adoption, and other descriptors, as they relate to smart grid issues. Each segment will react very differently to smart grid concepts, products and services. Specifically, they include:
- Concerned Greens, who comprise about 31 percent of the residential electricity market, are environmentally conscious, supportive of the smart grid, and are highly likely to participate in energy management programs;
- Young America (23 percent), a segment of consumer who don’t know much about smart grid, but are interested in learning about its potential for environmental benefits and cost savings;
- Easy Street (20 percent), who have the highest income of any segment and are reluctant to change their personal behaviors;
- DIY & Save (16 percent), who are frugal, prefer a do-it-yourself lifestyle, and are more concerned about providing for their families than about global environmental issues; and
- Traditionals (11 percent), who are set in their ways and don’t see the need for energy reform.
Thus, about 54 percent of household ratepayers are disposed to accept the smart grid from the get-go; the others represent a more resistant audience. Reasons for pushback include concerns about cyber security, privacy, and public health.
When it comes to the overriding benefits, there are several that respondents indicated they would be “willing to pay for.” Among the most popular benefits of the smart grid, based on the research findings, are time-of-use pricing, critical peak rebates, and energy monitoring services
Some segments do focus on lower bills, but others care as much or more about environmental benefits, improved reliability and outage restoration, global competitiveness, integrating renewables into the grid, or other benefits. The most compelling communication strategies weave together multiple benefits, taking into account the specific characteristics of intended audiences, said the researchers.
However, there is one caveat: Low-income consumers must be contacted and persuaded in a different manner than other prospective segments. In 2012, SGCC conducted a special telephone survey of 1,000 respondents carefully selected and screened to represent America’s low-income consumers. The findings indicate that smart grid awareness is somewhat lower—and attitudes somewhat less favorable— than among the general public; and that low income consumers are notably different in their demographic makeup, the benefits they seek, the availability of information technologies in their households, and their communication preferences. Stakeholders aiming to serve low-income consumers need to understand and respond to these differences.
Finally, SGCC research shows that about two-thirds of U.S. households currently have both a high-speed Internet connection and a wireless network in place. This existing infrastructure creates large-scale opportunities for the development of consumer-friendly energy management hardware and software. In addition, about half of U.S. consumers are active on social media. While few currently connect social media use to energy management, many say that they would like to do so in the future.
The report ends with an overview of four utility consumer engagement success stories and includes actual testimonials from consumers, to show what success looks like and how it is achieved.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman