A national online survey conducted by SmartGrid Canada in partnership with the Independent Electricity System Operator shows that Canadian consumers clearly want to be engaged with smart grids – but they want to know more about what value these technologies can deliver.

“This survey reveals a window of opportunity for our industry,” said Alex Bettencourt, managing director of SmartGrid Canada. “Canadians are, by and large, very open to the concept of smart grids and smart homes. While they may have an inkling of what it might entail, there’s clearly a need for our industry to raise awareness levels through large scale education efforts and address consumer concerns about cost, control and privacy.”

Smart grid describes the application of digital technologies to the existing electrical grid. These changes to today’s electricity networks can reduce outages, deliver power more efficiently and allow consumers to manage their electricity use with in-home displays and other technologies.

The online survey was conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion, a VisionCritical Practice, in English and French, with responses collected from more than 2,000 Canadians in September 2012. Other findings of the report include:

  • Canadian awareness levels of smart meters are higher than those in the US which is largely a result of large-scale smart meter deployments in Ontario and BC .
  • While favourability levels for smart grids and smart homes were high (68% and 69%), awareness levels were low. Only 27 percent of respondents indicated that they had at minimum a basic knowledge of smart grids and 40 percent claimed they had at least some understanding of smart homes.
  • Seventy-two percent of Ontarians indicated that they have changed their energy use in response to time-of-use rates, with a slighter lower percentage (69 per cent) believing that these efforts are having an impact on their bills.
  • While only 17 percent of Canadians outside of Ontario indicated that they would like to make the switch to time-of-use rates, more than half were interested in learning more about variable pricing options.
  • In terms of personal expenditures on smart home technologies, many consumers indicated that they would be willing to do the following:
    • Forty-five per cent of respondents said that they already have or would consider purchasing a smart appliance within the next three to five years;
    • Almost a third said they already have or would consider participating in a load control program which would allow their utility or another third party to reduce their air conditioning or water heater use during peak demand;
    • A similar percentage were interested in downloading a mobile app that would show how much energy they were using;
    • Just under a quarter of respondents were likely to buy, lease or rent an electric car.
  • Just over a third of respondents indicated that they would be willing to pay one to two dollars more each month to reduce carbon emissions. This was higher than the proportion who were willing to pay more to reduce the number of power outages (29 percent).
  • Among the perceived downsides of smart grids, 37 percent of Canadians believe smart grids could lead to a loss of control over their energy use; and while 71 percent of Canadians felt that smart grids will either save money, or be revenue neutral, 28 percent believed that they will result in higher costs in the long run.

“As utilities and others improve our electricity system with smart grid technologies, we have to provide consumers with the information they need to understand the opportunities these changes create and decide for themselves whether they want to get on board,” said Paul Murphy, president and CEO of the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO). “Smart grids offer so many options for consumers – detailed consumption information, more efficient appliances, in-home generation and electric cars, for example. All these opportunities can provide many benefits to the consumer – and the system as a whole.”