Smart Grid:

Consumer group's director discusses impact of industry messaging

Are consumers willing to pay extra on their utility bills for smart grid technologies? During today's OnPoint, Patty Durand, executive director of the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, discusses new research aimed at better understanding the market for smart grid and smart meters. Durand explains how industry can use the research to affect the future of technology deployments.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Patty Durand, executive director of the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative. Patty, thanks for coming on the show.

Patty Durand: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Patty, your organization studies consumer opinions and concerns about the deployment of smart grid and smart meters. And you recently completed some research called Consumer Voices to better understand the market. Overall, are consumers willing to pay more on their utility bills to have smart grid technologies implemented?

Patty Durand: We have found that consumers fall into five distinct segments and certain segments will pay more for certain benefits. Other segments will not pay more, but want those benefits to move forward. And, overall, our findings are that consumers are very interested in a smart grid and hope that the benefits continue to move forward and be deployed.

Monica Trauzzi: Explain what the segments are. How does that break down? Is it regional?

Patty Durand: No.

Monica Trauzzi: Is it socioeconomic?

Patty Durand: No, it is not regional and it is not demographic. And I want to emphasize that people fall across different spectrums of interests, so there are five main categories that we have that we call concerned greens, people who are concerned about the environment. There are traditionals, people who want things to stay the same because they always have been and hope always will be. There are the do-it-yourself and save categories, the people that are young and just starting out or are very financially concerned. There are young America, people who are still at home or still in college. And there are Easy Street people who are wealthy or comfortable and see life as-see their expenditures as helping to integrate and ease their way through life. And then each of those different segments have different messages that persuade them and different interests too.

Monica Trauzzi: The sample size for this report was relatively small. You interviewed 24 ...

Patty Durand: Right, this one ...

Monica Trauzzi: People across the board. I mean why do you think that helps paint an accurate picture of what Americans want?

Patty Durand: OK, yes, that's a good question. So, it is too small to be meaningful, but what this research does is bring to life the segments that were part of a bigger study that sampled over 2,000 U.S. residential consumers and that was statistically significant with a 95 percent confidence interval. And so those segments were identified in that statistically significant research. This research really is just a way to show consumers on video that fall in the segments. The report wasn't the intent of the research. The videos is the intent and I'll be showing the videos at conferences, one today and in the future, so that people can actually see. People in the industry, stakeholders and informed people like yourselves can see the faces and the voices of consumers and hear what they say. And it brings to life and brings color, what they think and their attitudes and opinions.

Monica Trauzzi: And when you present this information today at a town hall here in Washington, what are you hoping industry can gather from this information and then bring back home to sort of apply on a day-to-day basis?

Patty Durand: Well, we want to make sure that people understand, that industry stakeholders understand that consumers have values and preferences, as we all do, and that they're not and should not be grouped according to demographic. So, just because someone is low income doesn't mean they don't care about the environment. Just because someone is high income doesn't mean that they don't care about saving money. It's really what values and preferences people have that drives their behavior and their interests and their willingness to change their behavior and become active energy users and consumers. And so understanding where people are and meeting them at that place is the purpose of our research and helping to bring that to life and explore that and research that.

Monica Trauzzi: There are states that are allowing consumers to opt out of smart grid technologies, very often by paying a fee. How do you think that sort of affects the future of overall deployment?

Patty Durand: I don't think it affects it very much. I think it's good when people have choice. I would never say people should not have choice. I think the opt out concerns are little overblown and a lot of it comes because people have not been adequately educated or informed. And so they're writing on a blank slate and they don't know and they don't understand and so they go to a negative place. And that's common human behavior. It's done all the time. So really what we want to do and part of our purpose for existence as an organization is to come in and write on that space. These are the good things that you'll get. There will be more information on outages and you'll know when restoration happens. Maybe your utility can send you a text in the future; whereas, now you have to call and call and call and you don't know, maybe you'll get through, maybe you don't and you'll never know when power is coming back on until suddenly it's on. The future is going to be a lot more informed than that and so there is a lot of exciting benefits to the smart grid that need to be communicated to consumers.

Monica Trauzzi: PG&E has had tens of thousands of requests to have smart meters removed and many of the consumers there have cited somehow health effects from the radio frequency emissions of the meters. Did you find anything specific to that in your research?

Patty Durand: No and we didn't do primary research on RF emissions, but we did gather a lot of research. There are dozens of studies out there done by credible organizations, the California Council on Science and Technology. EPRI has done research, Federal Communications, all kinds of university research has been done. We've gathered it all and we have it available online in a library for anybody to access. We've also produced what we call an RF fact sheet for radio frequency emissions so that consumers can read a simple, colorful fact sheet in lay language, so you don't have to be a scientist or a professor to access and understand this information in our fact sheet, so that we're trying to do our part to help explain and educate consumers. And we think that brings a level of confidence to the consumers who have read that that they otherwise wouldn't have, because who's able to slog through an academic paper? Not too many people.

Monica Trauzzi: What kind of messaging do you think has been most effective with consumers?

Patty Durand: Well, messaging varies by segment, so what's persuasive to you may or may not be persuasive to me. But we've found that a couple of main messages resonate broadly and those are taking control of energy and saving money and having more access to renewables on the grid; and having more information available to control your energy spend. Those are general, broad-based messages that resonate with many people.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Patty Durand: Thank you for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]

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