IBM: Consumers in desperate need of energy education

An IBM survey found that when it comes to energy, consumers are a little dim. And that presents a formidable challenge to smart grid companies and utilities.

IBM's 2011 Global Utility Consumer Survey released Thursday found when it comes to energy smarts, consumers can be a bit dim. And that lack of basic energy knowledge not only makes it tough for utilities and smart grid companies, but prevents folks from saving energy and money.

IBM surveyed 10,000 people across 15 countries on consumers' energy wants and needs. The survey found a sizable gap between what consumers know and what they should in order to benefit from smart grid energy initiatives designed to boost efficiency, cut waste and save money.

That's bad news for the companies that have piled into the smart grid industry to develop energy saving gadgets, web tools and software. In short, it's hard to turn consumers onto your smart grid product if they don't know what you're talking about.

A few of the key findings:

  • More than 30 percent polled have never heard of the term "dollar per kilowatt hour;"
  • More than 60 percent don't know the meaning of the terms smart grid or smart meters;
  • More than half don't know if their utilities has a green energy program;
  • Almost a quarter of those who participate in green energy programs have no idea if they pay a premium for that power or how much more they pay.

"There have been major strides with new energy saving technologies, new programs and incentives, but in many cases the market is seeing more confusion amongst consumers than expected, IBM President of Global Energy and Utilities Michael Valocchi said in a release.

The power of friends and social media

The good news? Folks want to conserve energy. And the survey found a few ways utilities can reach and educate consumers.

Consumers were influenced by saving money, although the survey found it was no longer the dominating factor. The environment and the impact on the economy also weighed heavily on folks.

The No. 1 single influence on the consumer was an insert in their energy bill. However, the combination of traditional media, social media  and the opinions of friends and family outweighed the influence of a bill insert.

Friends and family were especially powerful with young people. Consumers under 25 years old are three times more likely to make decisions on energy based on family and friends advice, Valocchi said in a company-produced Youtube video. In other words, utilities' ability to influence all of its  consumers might not be as authoritative as once thought.

But that's OK, because the survey found a few weapons against consumer ignorance, one as simple as presenting a limited number of choices in basic language. It also suggested tapping into people's inherent social nature and their reliance on the behavior of others to determine what choice to make.  That's where the consumer portals -- a tool that let's people see and compare their energy use to neighbors -- can come in.

Here's the whole Youtube interview with Vallocchi:

Photo: cliff1006/Flickr

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