Smart grid, the easy way
By Patty Durand
SGCC Executive Director
Last year, the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative’s (SGCC) Consumer Pulse and Market Segmentation research program surveyed over 2,000 U.S. residential electricity consumers to create a holistic segmentation framework categorizing consumers into five distinct segments. The most recent study by SGCC, Consumer Voices 2012, built on these quantitative findings by delivering results from one-one conversations about energy and the smart grid with consumers across the nation, discussing whatâ€"and ifâ€"they’ve heard about the smart grid, what smart grid benefits they value, and what types of messaging resonate with them the most.
The five segments differ in many ways, especially in terms of how they manage their household energy use. While they say they are interested in saving energy, consumers in the Easy Street segment are least likely to tolerate altering their lifestyle to reduce energy consumption in response to higher energy prices during certain times of day. It isn’t that they’re lazy or don’t care to conserveâ€"it’s just that they favor comfort and convenience.
The Easy Street segment comprises 20% of the total population of residential U.S. energy consumers. Compared to other segments, members of the Easy Street group have high levels of education and the highest income. Consumers in this segment tend to be middle-aged, with children living at home. They are fairly diverse in terms of ethnic and racial backgrounds: 15% Hispanic and 13% African American.
When asked how they use energy in their home, consumers in the Easy Street segment describe their usage as being "free.” They don’t tend to be conservative when it comes to the number of TVs on, lights lit, and thermostat adjusted to temperatures offering the most comfort. Maintaining a sense of freedom to have the front porch and foyer lights on when it’s dark and running the air conditioning when it’s hot are primary priorities for them. Moreover, they can afford their monthly energy expenditures. Nevertheless, they are interested in smart grid-enabled pricing programs to save energy and protect the environment.
Critical peak pricing program interest
Consumers in the Easy Street segment are more interested in critical peak pricing programs than time of use pricing. These consumers like that under critical peak pricing they don’t get penalized for deciding to use energy when they want. The program is perceived as potentially being a resource to help them maintain their sense of freedom and personal choice to keep their house comfortable. Other program positives are noted in the quotes below:
"I like that you know for a fact when off peak is and I know when I can run the dryer.”
"I like that it’s giving you that little notice, this is peak area time, and you may want to go ahead and reduce it... a lot of times you are going through your day-to-day things and you forget...little reminders and then receive a rebateâ€"a nice ‘thanks for doing good,’ that I think is great.”
As smart grid technologies become more widely deployed, more utilities will start offering their customers demand management programs to curtail, shift, or adjust their electricity use during periods of high prices or system emergencies. To galvanize the Easy Street segment to participate, utilities may need to employ tools, smart applications, and appliances integrated with smart grid pricing programs (like "set and forget” home energy management appliances that automatically respond to demand response signals) to make energy management hassle-free. The key: to make sure that new offerings are able to integrate seamlessly into life on Easy Street.
Patty Durand is the Executive Director at the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, a nonprofit whose mission is to build a consumer-safe, consumer-friendly smart grid. Prior to this position Patty worked for a year at Georgia Tech on smart grid research projects and has four years of experience as the State Director of the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, Georgia’s largest grassroots environmental nonprofit. She has a combined business and nonprofit background, having earned an MBA at the College of William and Mary in Virginia and a BS in Business at Virginia Commonwealth University.
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