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GE: The Greatest Barrier to the Smart Grid Is Perception

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There’s good news to report about the public’s perceptions of the smart grid . . . and then there’s bad news.

The good news is that people who know a little or a lot about smart grid technology are overwhelmingly in favor of pursuing and adopting it as soon as possible. The bad news is that the number of smart grid enthusiasts is only a small fraction of all people.

If you’re reading this you probably already know that the smart grid refers to revolutionizing the 20th century power grid with 21st century technology. But what does it mean for the future if only a small number of people share that understanding? It may be that one of the greatest barriers to smart grid adoption is perceptual.

That’s one way of looking at a recent report GE Energy (s GE) commissioned and released in March that surveyed consumers in the U.S. and Australia to better understand people’s awareness and perceptions of smart meters and smart grids. We learned a few interesting things:

  • More than three-fourths of consumers in the United States (79 percent) and Australia (72 percent) are not familiar with the term “smart grid.”
  • Fewer than 10 percent of those surveyed in either country said they have heard of a smart grid and have a good understanding of what it is.
  • Among those who do have an understanding of it, nearly all believe that such a grid would offer them real benefits. Most know that real-time awareness of what’s happening across the entire electrical network would mean fewer power outages and quicker power restoration when outages occur. Many understand that, like cell phones, the smart grid uses time-of-use based pricing and can save them money by allowing them to choose when and at what price to use electricity. Overall, they want to know more about smart grid and how it would affect them.

In short, to know smart grid is to support smart grid.

But even among smart grid acolytes there is disagreement about what are the greatest benefits and challenges of the technology.

  • In the U.S., the ability to rely more on homegrown clean energy sources like wind, solar and biogas is believed to be the primary benefit of upgrading the electrical network. In Australia, opinion is more fractured – with cost savings being the primary benefit.
  • Fewer than half of Americans who know about smart grid think there are challenges to rolling out the technology – while nearly all informed Australians think there are challenges.
  • A third of smart grid-aware Americans believe the biggest challenge is deciding whether to spend tax dollars to upgrade the existing grid or overhaul it completely. In Australia, consumer privacy and security issues are the biggest barriers.

Aside from the cost and privacy concerns, the survey points out what I think is smart grid’s biggest challenge of all: not enough people know about it. Enlightening millions of consumers about smart grid technology may be a daunting task, but it’s far from impossible. The survey shows that smart grid awareness alone seems to have the ability turn bystanders into advocates.

My takeaway? If you believe in smart grid, spread the word.

Katharine Brass, Ecomagination Program Manager, GE Energy: Kate leads the businesses efforts with respect to defining the ecomagination product portfolio, developing strategic customer relationships and large energy and conservation demonstration projects. She represents the environmental interests of the business with respect to national and international government affairs, global research efforts, new technology commercialization, internal greenhouse gas reduction programs and the impact and implication of carbon regulation on the growth of the business. Kate holds a Bachelors degree in Finance and Economics and a Masters in Environmental Management and Policy. She has more than 20 years of experience in sales, marketing, communications and strategic planning.

Images courtesy of GE.

6 Responses to “GE: The Greatest Barrier to the Smart Grid Is Perception”

  1. The earth2tech cover photo for this article shows an array of gas meters. I don’t see the connection between gas meters and the smart grid. Maybe I’m missing perception.

  2. David Duenzl

    I think that we may have missed the point. Perception is important but the “greatest barrier”, from your statistics, would be the lack of communication.

    More than three-fourths of consumers in the United States (79 percent) and Australia (72 percent) are not familiar with the term “smart grid.”

    Not being familiar is a far cry from have a poor perception. People can’t have poor perceptions on things they don’t know exist. If consumers were educated on what is actually happening or proposed to happen then they would be in a much better position to engage in the discussion.

    From there arguments about perception are relevant, for now, having fewer than 30% of consumers from the US and Australia, I think the argument/discussion on the greatest barriers can comfortably rest with the lack of consumer education and awareness rather than perceptions the unknown.

  3. There is no value to a smart grid other than that of creating a means to monitor and then charge additional fees for the different times you elect to use electricity. GE makes the industrial equipment to help utilities put this in place.