Smart grid + bill prepay explored as home energy efficiency strategy

What if you could pay the amount that you're willing to set aside for your electricity upfront every month, and then use smart metering applications and other home energy management technologies to manage household consumption against that amount?This concept of "prepaid" utility services was recently examined in a consumer survey marketing firm EcoAlign, and the top-level results probably won't surprise you that much.

What if you could pay the amount that you're willing to set aside for your electricity upfront every month, and then use smart metering applications and other home energy management technologies to manage household consumption against that amount?

This concept of "prepaid" utility services was recently examined in a consumer survey marketing firm EcoAlign, and the top-level results probably won't surprise you that much. Slightly less than half of the respondents to the 1,000-person online indicated that they had no interest in such services. That's despite the fact that data shows prepay options can help result in 5 percent to 15 percent energy savings among those consumers that use them. Stuff like privacy concerns and the notion that if you somehow exceeded your limit, you would lose electricity access were the issues turning people off.

Here are some of the more intriguing findings reported in EcoAlign's report, "EcoPinion: Is Prepay the Way? Consumer Perceptions of Prepay in the Utility Sector":

  • Of those consumers who ARE using prepay options of some sort (the other half of the respondents), 75 percent told EcoAlign that they are satisfied with those services. Mind you, this applies to ALL prepay gift cards and services, not specifically those for utility companies.
  • Survey respondents between 18 years and 30 years old were more interested in the "ease" and "convenience" of prepay options.
  • Renters were more apt to use prepay services than home owners.
  • However, when asked explicitly about prepay utilities, only 17 percent of the respondents say they are "extremely" or "very" interested. The demographic trends are similar to those for prepay options in general.
  • Interest levels rise when it is suggested that voluntary prepay options could be linked to a discount of 10 percent or more off their utility bills.

Consumers see the following as the top three benefits of prepay options: Paying for energy as it is used, getting rid of end-of-the-month surprises, more control over costs.

Maybe I'm just jaded, but the negative power of the way that people have "always done things" is something that those of us excited about new technology potentially overlook. I love the spirit of this idea, especially because I would love to have way more as-we-go insight into my personal electricity bill but I just do see many people of my generation moving all that quickly on prepay. I think it is a generational thing that will take at least a decade to work its way into our collective consciousness, no matter how much we would love to see it happen more quickly.

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