20 Sep 2012

Are low-income consumers slowing smart grid progress? Hardly . . .

Written by Jim Pierobon

The answer thus far would appear to be that low-income consumers are looking forward to smarter energy offerings based on fresh data from the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative.

A recent survey for Collaborative sheds light on the opportunity and the challenge of engaging consumers who have annual family incomes up to $20,000 (for a family of 1-2 persons) on up to $50,000 (for a family of 9 or more).

While roughly four in ten low-income consumers who are aware of the term “smart grid” have less than favorable opinions toward it and smart meters, another four in ten ARE favorable; the remaining 20% are neutral.

One of the more interesting findings is that low-income consumers — much like the population at large — have a strong interest in dynamic pricing; this despite the fact that 42% of them say they do not use the internet and roughly the same percentage do not have a cell phone. As a result, survey respondents are more receptive to automated phone calls than the general population.

Low-income consumers are less favorable toward smart grid applications than the the overall population, according to recent research for the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative. CREDIT: Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative.

Fewer and shorter power outages are high on the list of what they want out of a smarter grid and the smart meters that can make it happen.

Time-of-use (TOU) and critical-peak-rebate (CPR) pricing programs could find a receptive market among these consumers, the research showed.

The goals of saving money and using less energy appear to ring true no matter how much money people make.

While the research results augur well for continued progress for smart grid deployment, the research underscores the need for more effective outreach to low-income consumers. Their knowledge and support could be integral to dealing with activists opposing smart meters with claims that have yet — and may never be — substantiated.

Low-income consumers deserve the customized communications just as much as other segments of the population are starting to receive. Where needed, using the Spanish language and Spanish-language media are no-doubt critical for engaging low-income Hispanics.

Here’s a sampling of reasons why low-income consumers are willing to participate in time-of-use electricity offerings from their utilities. CREDIT: Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative

Respondents had to be 18 or over and the head of the household. The sample was stratified by ethnicity targeting 400 whites, 300 African Americans, 300 Hispanics. Aggregate data were weighted by age, ethnicity, gender and region to align with low income population parameters. Those interviewed, including those in Spanish, totaled 1,001.

Read more about the research, conducted by Market Strategies International, here.

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