Customer education is key to consumer acceptance for smart meters

Boulder, Colo., December 2, 2010 — As the momentum of utility smart grid initiatives continues to increase, questions of consumer acceptance are of paramount importance for the industry.

During 2010, the industry discussion of consumer issues has intensified, particularly in the wake of loud consumer pushback related to smart meter deployments in the Pacific Gas & Electric and Oncor service territories.

Utilities are seeking effective ways to communicate the benefits of smart meters to their customers, while at the same time addressing consumer concerns about billing, privacy, control and safety issues.

A new consumer survey from Pike Research finds that consumer familiarity with smart meters is a critical element in fostering positive impressions of these new devices and their benefits.

The survey, based on a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 U.S. adults, finds that among respondents who were “extremely familiar” with smart meters, 67 percent stated that they had an “extremely” or “very” favorable opinion on the devices.

This level of favorability was dramatically higher than the total base of survey participants, in which only 29 percent provided a favorable rating for smart meters.

“There is a direct correlation between consumer familiarity with smart meters and their favorable views toward the technology,” says research director Bob Gohn. “Most consumers in our survey still don’t understand what smart meters are all about, and this lack of knowledge is a real barrier to ultimate acceptance. To ensure the success of smart meter deployments and avoid repeating the mistakes of several early rollouts, it is incumbent on utilities to increase their customer outreach and education programs.”

Other key findings of the survey are as follows:

 * 56 percent of survey respondents described themselves as “not very” or “not at all” familiar with smart meters. Among this group, the number of respondents giving favorable ratings was extremely low. Ambivalence to smart meters was the most common response.

 * Increased consumer access to electricity usage information was identified as an important benefit by 52 percent of respondents, making this the most frequent benefit cited. Improved reliability of electricity service was not far behind, with 46 percent of consumers identifying this benefit as important to them.

 * The most popular reason for an unfavorable opinion about smart meters, chosen by 59 percent of respondents, focused on concerns that the devices would increase electricity bills.

 * Smart meters were the least popular of the four consumer smart grid concepts covered by Pike Research’s survey, with a 29 percent favorability/interest rating. Other more popular concepts were home energy management (47 percent), smart appliances (44 percent), and demand response services (33 percent).

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