By Jonathan Spencer Jones

Canada’s power industry needs to better engage consumers on the smart grid, with apparently little progress achieved over the past year, SmartGrid Canada’s latest consumer survey suggests.

In the first survey last year, 27% of the survey respondents indicated a basic knowledge of smart grids, rising to just 31% this year. However, more significantly last year 68% expressed favorability towards smart grids, while only 54% did this year – perhaps because most see smart grid enhancements as benefiting the system rather than themselves, with almost three-quarters associating smart grids with fewer and shorter outages, but only 17% with home automation systems.

Further the proportion of respondents who believe smart grids could lead to a loss of control over their energy use is unchanged between the two surveys at 37%, while almost a third expressed concern about privacy.

But there is clearly hope: the provision of information on smart grids (in the form of a brief definition) doubled the initial 27% favorability to 54%, and a similar proportion indicated that they found the idea of receiving a real-time energy use monitor from their local utility appealing

Not surprisingly cost is the number one factor of interest, with more than half ranking smart grids keeping power bills as low as possible as most important, while almost a quarter commented on comfort and convenience.

As Alex Bettencourt, managing director of SmartGrid Canada, put it commenting on the survey: “These results clearly point to the need to bring the consumer into the conversation about smart grids. We need to make the benefits of smart grids real for them.”

Among the other findings from the survey that should be taken note of are:

  • Over 80% are interested in learning more about how they can conserve electricity
  • 60% said everyone needs to do their part to help conserve electricity but less than half that number said they themselves need to
  • Fewer than half would be prepared to pay $1-2 per month more on their bills to reduce carbon emissions or power outages.

Finally the local power utilities are the bodies that most consumers are looking towards for assistance with electricity management, so they are ideally placed for engagement with their customers.