Utility companies across the United States are committing billions of dollars in projects to upgrade the electric grid and install new meters in homes and businesses. Yet two-thirds of Americans have never heard the term smart grid (68%) and 63% have not heard of smart meter.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,576 adults surveyed online between Jan. 18 and 25, 2010 by Harris Interactive.

A majority of U.S. adults (57%) are aware of how much electricity they are consuming, and an even greater number (67%) say they would reduce their usage if they had visibility to it. A fundamental promise of smart meters is to provide this continuous feedback, and in the future consumers could be charged a cost per kilowatt that varies depending on the cost to produce. If this type of pricing replaces the current flat rate charged, 75% of Americans “want to be able to see and control how much electricity” they are using. There is, however, a core of U.S. adults (22%) who do not want the electric company to know how much power they are using each minute.

Using what they have read or heard about smart grid, consumers are unsure about what makes upgrades to the electric system necessary or advantageous. Two in five (42%) Americans were unable to outright agree or disagree with the statement “The electricity system is fine the way it is and smart grid is not necessary.” When asked about the impact of smart grid on the security, reliability, and increased renewable sources of energy on the electric system, at least one-half of Americans expressed uncertainty. However, those familiar with smart grid are more likely to see positive impacts than those who are unfamiliar.

The general population is also uncertain about what will happen to the cost of electricity once these investments are made, and as such are very unwilling to pay for it. Those familiar with smart grid are more likely to believe that the cost of electricity will increase once it is deployed (51%) than those who have not heard of smart grid (39%). They are also more willing to pay a 10% premium on their electric bill now for the future benefits (22% vs. 11%).

So what?

The combination of low awareness and the massive amount of investment dollars going into upgrades to the system present utility companies with the perfect opportunity to begin educating consumers. A better understanding of why these upgrades to the system are needed can positively impact acceptance.

“While the need for and benefits of smart grid and smart meter may seem obvious to industry insiders, this is not the case with consumers. In light of the huge investments about to be made that ratepayers will ultimately be responsible for, utility companies need to formulate, test, and launch a sustained communication strategy,” says Tish Pasqual, senior research director, Harris Interactive Business and Industrial, Harris Interactive.

TABLE 1
AWARENESS OF SMART GRID / SMART METER
“Have you ever heard of the term ‘Smart Grid’, Smart Meter?”

Base: All adults

Yes No Not Sure
% % %
Smart Grid 32 68 --
Smart Meter 26 63 9

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

TABLE 2
ELECTRICITY STATEMENTS
“How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?”

Base: All adults

AGREE
(NET)

Strongly
Agree

Somewhat
Agree

Neither
Agree or
Disagree

DISAGREE
(NET)

Somewhat
Disagree

Strongly
Disagree

% % % % % % %
If the price of electricity in the future changes based on how much it costs to produce, I want to be able to see and control how much electricity I am using 75 33 42 21 5 3 1
If I could see how much electricity I was using I would be more likely to reduce my usage 67 23 44 22 10 7 3
I rarely think about how much electricity I am using 25 6 19 17 57 30 27
I do not want the power company knowing how much electricity I am using each minute 22 6 14 44 34 19 15

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

TABLE 3
SMART GRID STATEMENTS
“How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?”

Base: All adults

AGREE
(NET)

Strongly
Agree

Somewhat
Agree

Neither
Agree or
Disagree

DISAGREE
(NET)

Somewhat
Disagree

Strongly
Disagree

Not At
All
Sure

% % % % % % % %
Smart Grid will increase the cost of electricity 42 18 24 24 14 10 4 20
Smart Grid will increase the use of solar, wind, and other sources of renewable electricity 39 12 26 27 11 6 5 34
Smart Grid will improve the reliability of electricity 33 10 24 30 15 8 7 23
Smart Grid will decrease the security of our electric system 31 11 20 28 18 11 6 23
The electricity system is fine the way it is and Smart Grid is not necessary 21 9 13 27 35 22 13 16
I would be willing to pay 10% more right now for electricity each month to get the benefits of Smart Grid in the future 15 4 10 23 47 20 27 15

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

TABLE 4
SMART GRID STATEMENTS – BY THOSE FAMILIAR WITH SMART GRID
“How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?”
Percent saying “strongly/somewhat agree”

Base: All adults

Total Familiarity with Smart Grid
Familiar Not Familiar
% % %
Smart Grid will increase the cost of electricity 42 51 39
Smart Grid will increase the use of solar, wind, and other sources of renewable electricity 39 49 33
Smart Grid will improve the reliability of electricity 33 48 26
Smart Grid will decrease the security of our electric system 31 38 28
The electricity system is fine the way it is and Smart Grid is not necessary 21 19 23
I would be willing to pay 10% more right now for electricity each month to get the benefits of Smart Grid in the future 15 22 11

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States January 18 to 25, 2010 among 2,576 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.