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Exploring U.S. Seniors' Perspective Toward the Smart Grid

By Patty Durand, Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative Executive Director

Durand headshotUnderstanding customers’ attitudes, viewpoints, and overall favorability around a modernized electric grid is integral to fully realizing all the benefits the smart grid has to offer.

Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) recently completed a new consumer analysis, Consumer Pulse: Focus on Seniors, which takes a deeper dive into the data collected from SGCC’s national flagship research series, Consumer Pulse Wave 1-4, which was collected during 2011–2013.

In the energy industry, there is no single study that explores seniors’ attitudes toward the smart grid and energy programs. Therefore, this new analysis provides insight for utilities and the smart grid stakeholder community on a demographic that is not well understood. Further, the Consumer Pulse: Focus on Seniors report answers the key question: What benefits do older Americans value most from a smarter grid?

What did we find?

There is no consensus on when someone becomes a senior citizen. For AARP, it’s 50, for the federal government, it’s now 65 (when you receive full Social Security benefits), and for marketing purposes, it’s sometimes 54. For this report, the two senior groupings we used were 55 and older, and 65 and older. These are the ages where notable differences in attitudes and behaviors often emerged.  These two groups were then compared to the general population.

The results from the analysis revealed that older Americans say “saving money” and “reliability” are the most important and favorable smart grid benefits. Ironically, seniors are less likely than their younger counterparts (18 – 54) to participate in or have an interest in smart grid programs and technologies that have the potential to save them money.

For seniors who had favorable attitudes toward smart meters – which provide detailed electricity use data throughout the day – their primary reason was lower electric costs, while younger people found energy conservation more appealing. Also, more than half of the seniors surveyed said they would participate in “critical peak rebate programs,” also known as demand response – an energy conservation tool that pays people to save energy when the electric grid is stressed.

The study showed that a significant number of seniors (20 percent) indicated they do not know who to look to as a “trusted source” regarding smart grid information – suggesting an opportunity for utilities to position themselves in this role.

One of the major takeaways from the report is that utilities need to be cognizant of media preferences when engaging seniors, who prefer traditional media channels such as print, radio, and television. Moreover, their awareness and favorability of the smart grid can be influenced through education on these channels.

SGCC’s fundamental research findings illustrate that an engaged customer is a more satisfied customer. And utilities have the front-line opportunity to engage their customers and shape the relationship.  There remain significant opportunities to engage with and educate the senior population about the vast benefits of a cleaner, smarter electric grid.

Smart grid education in action

Despite significant progress across the country in deploying a smarter grid, there continues to be a real need for customer education. Toward this end, SGCC will host its 5th annual 2015 Consumer Symposium: Consumer Value in Action, on Monday, Feb. 2. This event is co-located with DistribuTECH at the Convention Center, in San Diego, California.

Aimed at community stakeholders charged with delivering smart grid programs and educational resources to customers, the Symposium is a unique event that focuses on the customer smart grid issues shaping the future. It will provide insightful information on creating new and innovative solutions to engage customers on the smart grid in 2015, as well as proactive approaches in communicating the value of smart grid investments to customers. Additionally, attendees will be offered a first look at the 2015 State of the Consumer Report.

Register now and join us at the 2015 Consumer Symposium, so that together we may align our efforts and gain all the tools needed to bring widespread understanding of the smart grid to everyone.

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