Seeking reliability: consumer interest grows in on-site power

David J. Reichman

President

RKS Research & Consulting

Amid summer power shortages, continued utility restructuring and consolidation, affluent American households are receptive to the idea of generating their own electricity, according to a new nationwide survey. While high-income single family homeowners register satisfaction with their utility service, growing numbers express interest in some kind of backup power source, the survey points out. These customers want-and can afford-increased protection against losses, discomfort and inconvenience. Some of these affluent homeowners feel the need for more control of their power supply, with less dependence on their energy supplier.

Already, one in 10 affluent U.S. households-11 percent-owns some form of emergency backup generator, according to the survey. Owners of these units show interest in acquiring a more advanced generating device. A larger proportion-15 percent-expresses a high degree of interest in on-site power generation, while another 24 percent remain neutral.

RKS Research & Consulting, a nationwide market research and public opinion polling firm based in North Salem, N.Y., performed this latest market assessment, an update of a study completed a year ago. For this survey, RKS interviewed 810 heads of households across the United States. It defined high-income status as the top 15 percent income bracket in each of four separate census regions. The interviews took place in May and June of this year.

The findings demonstrated measurable interest in a product that is still mainly in the concept stage. The strong signals received from affluent consumers indicated a large potential market for power generation devices that deliver a higher degree of protection, control, and independence to sophisticated, technology-rich households.

The survey also confirmed that no single supplier has a lock in the market for on-site generation. High-income residents are just as willing to consider an equipment manufacturer as their utility to sell and service this equipment, and large numbers would turn instead to their local retail outlet.

The survey also confirmed customer interest in on-site electricity increases in direct proportion to power inconveniences. Specifically, consumers showing the highest interest in on-site generation have experienced twice as many outages and significantly more interruptions than other respondents. Interest is highest in the Eastern United States, a broad area of unusually severe heat and constrained power supplies this summer.

Higher income households have more sophisticated needs and are willing to pay a premium for solutions. For example, homes in excess of 3,000 square feet, households with multiple computers, and large families express the highest levels of interest in distributed generation. These customers consider a premium of 17 percent more than their present electric bill a fair price for backup support.

For additional information about the RKS Residential Customer Survey of Distributed Generation, call 914-277-6900, ext. 102.

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