Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Bringing the Consumer Perspective of the Smart Grid to Life: Exploring SGCC’s 2015 Consumer Voices Study

In today’s world of hyper-connectivity our phones don’t stop buzzing, our watches beeping, and we as a society continue to break records for the amount data we generate every day. As our world becomes more digitized and our devices more interconnected, it is paramount to understand how each subset of consumers interacts with emerging technologies.  

Underpinned by a global focus on energy efficiency, the United States has already installed more than 50 million household smart meters and the prevalence of home energy management systems continues to rise. As the smart grid, along with associated products and services, continues to develop in communities, it is essential for parties on both sides of the meter know how to engage with one another.

In order to better understand how consumers think about their energy usage, SGCC visited communities throughout the country and conducted in-depth interviews with a variety of consumers throughout our 2015 Consumer Voices study. Building on the findings from our first Consumer Voices study conducted in 2012, these in-depth interviews serve to equip the facts and figures that inform decisions throughout the utility industry with a voice, affording companies an  opportunity better understand the customers they strive to serve.

Knowing that not all consumers are alike, SGCC sought to further define the five different smart grid Consumer Segments identified in the Consumer Pulse Wave 5 Survey released earlier this year. Through this segmentation, five consumer segments were identified: Green Champions, Movers & Shakers, Savings Seekers, Technology Cautious and Status Quo. These segments group together like-minded consumers based on socioeconomic characteristics and their thoughts and actions toward energy usage, the smart grid, smart meters and smart energy technologies.       
Interpreting the Results

Throughout the 2015 Consumer Voices study, consumers responded to open ended questions about their energy usage, conservation habits, feelings toward their electricity provider and their knowledge of smart meters and smart energy programs. Additionally, consumers were given the opportunity to speak freely about their thoughts and feelings surrounding energy usage as it relates to their specific lifestyle and daily routines. While each consumer’s responses were shaped and molded by their individual circumstances, common themes emerged across all consumer segments. 

SGCC found that though knowledge of the smart grid and smart meters remains stable and relatively low, consumer interest in programs, products and services that smart grid technology can offer is high.

“I think if I can have this smart grid and this smart energy, I kind of feel like I’m in the driver’s seat. I have control. I can understand.”

While SGCC interviewed a variety of consumers in different locations across the country, all consumers interviewed felt that they would better respond to messaging tailored to stress individual benefits they could receive from the smart grid.

“If they word it right and they make me feel like I can save money and be more efficient and it could really manage my home and have the power to change things, then that would be kind of motivating.”

Each of the participants in the various consumer segments found a different aspects of the smart grid appealing, but a common theme expressed by many of the interviewees was an interest in the smart grid helping them save money.

“A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck…If they can save money to use for other things because of energy savings, that would be a tremendous motivation.”

While there were many perceived benefits from smart grid technologies across all consumer segments, the single most anticipated benefit from the smart grid was increased reliability.

“That’s putting intelligence into the distribution network, for efficiency. Making better use of what we have right now and making it more energy efficient.”

Regardless of their consumer segment, all of the consumers that SGCC interviewed shared a belief that everybody should do their part to reduce energy use, but there needs to be an appropriate cost:benefit ratio to cause them to act.

“If it’s going be a burden, then you weigh your costs. No pun intended. But, if it’s something that can just be manageable, easy to plan, then no problem. But, if it’s going be more of a burden, more work, and its going take a lot more effort – maybe not as much.”

Additionally, SGCC found when given the opportunity, many consumers did not shy away from candidly explaining how their behavior is often influenced by socio-economic factors.

“Because I think that if I’m working 12 hour days that I deserve to feel comfortable in my house.”

“I conserve energy and use less. First, because it helps me in my pocketbook and second because it’s selfish not to, in my opinion.”

While common threads emerged, these in-depth interviews allowed SGCC to drill down deep and further pinpoint the characteristics that separate the five consumer segments. The unique thoughts, actions and rationales behind each segment have generated new data points which electricity and technology providers can use to fine tune their consumer engagement efforts. SGCC’s Consumer Voices research is part of an ongoing effort to better understand consumer awareness, favorability, expectations and preferences concerning the smart grid and smart grid-enabled programs and technologies. As the ways in which we access, use and think about energy continue to evolve, so too will the relationship between consumers and electricity providers. 

SGCC wold like to invite you to attend our 6th Annual Consumer Symposium: The Connected Consumer & the Future of the Grid. Co-located with DistribuTECH 2016, the event takes place on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, from 9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., at the Orange County Convention Center, in Orlando, Florida. Attendees at the Symposium will gain insightful information and tactics on creating new and innovative solutions to help engage consumers about the smart grid in 2016. Additionally, industry stakeholders will learn and takeaway the proactive approaches in communicating the value of smart grid investments to consumers, in order to fulfill consumer expectations.