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Lighting the Way

Understanding the smart energy consumer in a down economy.

Fortnightly Magazine - October 2009

and willingness to change behavior. Four in five consumers would change the times when they do energy-consuming housework in exchange for large savings (50 percent). This pattern doesn’t vary much by income level; those in the upper 5 to 10 percent of the respondents’ national income distribution were as open to such change as those below median national income. Even for a small discount (10 percent) for changing time of usage, about half were willing to change. These numbers were virtually unchanged from 2007.

There isn’t much evidence to suggest consumers think lower rates are in store for them; only 6 percent believe that over the next five years, their bills will increase more slowly (or decrease more rapidly) than their usage, while over half foresee the cost increasing roughly at the same pace as usage. Forty percent expect to see their bills increasing more rapidly than their usage—or not decreasing as much as any reduction in usage.

Overall, 2008 respondents have a slightly more pessimistic view of the next five years than those in 2007, mostly because of expected increases in consumption than any apparent change in perspective stemming from energy-price surges in the summer of 2008. Two-thirds expect to see their bills increasing over the next five years, versus 59 percent in 2007; however, in 2008, 38 percent expect usage to increase versus 30 percent in 2007, so the differential between the two years’ numbers is the same.

With the prevalent feeling that energy prices will move inexorably upward, and with awareness of smart meters growing, more than 90 percent of respondents indicated they would like to have a smart meter and tools for managing their usage, with 55 to 60 percent of these respondents willing to pay a one-time or monthly fee for that capability. Consumers largely are indifferent to which form this control takes. The percentages wanting this service via a dedicated control panel, a home computer interface or a smart meter automatically controlling devices are essentially the same, although there are some differences across age groups.

Environmental Impact Reductions

The emphasis on climate change is as strong now as with consumers in the 2007 survey. It’s also fairly consistent across an expanded group of countries. For 10 of the 12 countries, between 65 percent and 75 percent of respondents stated that environmental factors are “important” in purchases of non-energy products. Only the Netherlands, at 64 percent and Canada, at 78 percent, fell slightly outside that band.

The availability of renewable energy programs in response to this demand for more carbon-neutral products remained about the same year to year. Across the core-group countries, the percentage reporting that they didn’t have renewable power programs available dropped from 21 percent in 2007 to 16 percent in 2008. Rather than increasing the percentage of affirmative responses, however, most of the movement was to the “don’t know” response—up to 50 percent, from 46 percent in 2007. Responses of the expanded-group countries were consistent with those in the core group (see Figure 2) .

According to industry experts in some of the countries