I have literally been deluged with information about consumer energy management habits related to the smart grid over the past three weeks.
Basically, these surveys cover what homeowners might (or might not) do when it comes to participating in proactive energy management. There are all manner of sponsors for this data, from independent research firms to vendors selling energy management software and services to industry associations that figure they will be affected in some way by the smart grid.
Before I recount some of the individual results, let me share some of the common themes. Actually, there really is NO common theme, other than that fact that most consumers aren't participating at all right now in any kind of energy management program and that awareness remains sort of stuck in neutral. What that in mind, here are some of the things that really jumped out to me across the different research.
- The market is going to grow more slowly than certain people would like. Pike Research figures that the number of people using home energy management systems will reach about 63 million by 2020. That's up from approximately 1 million in 2011. If you think about all the people that live in the United States, that really doesn't seem like a lot, does it? Unlike the enterprise energy management marketplace, which is pretty self-serving in that companies see how much money they can save, many individuals still haven't figured out the impetus for investing in these technologies. One thing that is a big wildcard and that COULD push usage is the adoption of electric vehicles. Notes Pike Research director Bob Gohn: "When the garage becomes the gas station, consumers will demand more sophisticated energy management capabilities, and utilities will need greater visibility into residential energy consumption patterns."
- Consumers are waiting for the utility companies' lead. The May 2011 survey from marketing agency EcoPinion, called "Consumer Cents for Smart Grid," suggests that consumer awareness of the term "smart grid" has barely budged in the year since it conducted another survey about this topic. Approximately 87 percent of those surveyed by EcoPinion DO say they are interested in hearing about ways that utilities can help them reduce their bills. When told how the smart grid and its related home energy management component could address consumption and payment options, approximately the same number said it sounded appealing. But the overriding finding of the survey, according to EcoPinion, is that utilities will need to show consumers how the smart grid can save them money -- short-term AND long-term -- before they will be willing to adopt. Approximately 1,000 consumers responded to the survey, which was conducted in April 2011.
- The savings potential still needs to be demonstrated. What struck me most about the survey on energy management taken by the Consumer Electronics Association was that there was a demonstrable but small difference in the average household electricity cost of consumers enrolled in management programs versus those who were not enrolled in programs. According to the CEA data, the average monthly cost for an enrolled household was $125 compared with $132 for an unenrolled household. The CEA survey was conducted in April 2011 amount 1,250 adults. Slightly more than half of them (55 percent) indicated that they would be interested in an energy management program sponsored by a utility company. These findings are at odds with some data I am reading from EcoFactor, which is one of the vendors that sells residential energy management technology. According to results it has published about its early pilot projects, which are going on around the United States, households using EcoFactor's home energy management service are reducing consumption on average by 17 percent. In order for this to happen, however, you have to give up some control. Noted EcoFactor CEO John Steinberg: "It works because we're going beyond basic remote controls that just make the specific changes that consumers tell them to -- and thus can only save energy to the extent the homeowner understands how to reduce usage and change their behavior accordingly. EcoFactor does it automatically, maintaining desired comfort levels while delivering big reductions in energy use making it a profitable addition to our service provider partners' portfolios."
Personally, I think the whole matter of control is what is going to make the whole home energy management technology sector a very tricky one indeed to predict.