The Relationship Between Consumers and the Smart Grid

The Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) releases reports based on customer surveys about involvement in the smart grid. In 2016, it released three reports: “The Empowered Consumer,” “Consumer Driven Technologies” and “Customer Experience and Expectations.” The reports were recently integrated into the SGCC’s “2017 State of the Consumer Report.”

“Consumer Driven Technologies” addresses residential solar, community solar, green power plans and electric vehicles (EVs). It finds that, while state policies and program support play some role in consumer adoption of smart grid technologies, the primary drivers are consumer demographics and segmentation (home ownership versus renting, income, age, etc.).

Another finding is that there is growing interest in alternative models for acquisition of solar photovoltaic (PV) and EVs, such as power purchase agreements, shared ownership arrangements (e.g., community solar) and leases. Also, lack of knowledge about what is available and what its benefits are represents a barrier to even more widespread adoption. For example, less than 22 percent of consumers claim to have a fairly complete knowledge of solar PV or EVs.

Where can consumers get the information they need? Their preferred choice, in most cases, is solar equipment suppliers/installers. Findings include:

  • For sources to provide equipment and hardware: 70 percent of consumers rely on suppliers/installers, 36 percent rely on utility/retail energy service providers and 14 percent rely on government entities.
  • For assistance in the installation process: 66 percent rely on suppliers/installers, 33 percent on utility/retail energy service providers and 18 percent on family/friends.
  • For objective advice on which types of panels are best: 61 percent rely on suppliers/installers, 40 percent on utility/retail energy service providers and 18 percent on government entities.
  • For education in financing options: 51 percent rely on suppliers/installers, 38 percent on utility/retail energy service providers and 33 percent on government entities.
  • The only area where consumers rely on someone other than suppliers/installers is for assistance in installation costs, with 44 percent relying on government entities, 37 percent on suppliers/installers and 34 percent on utility/retail energy service providers.

In sum, those involved in providing and installing solar PV units are viewed by consumers as an excellent, and usually primary, source for education, products and other assistance.

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