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Smart Grid: A Customer Challenge

Consumers hold the key to technology’s benefits.

Fortnightly Magazine - October 2009

the diffusion of innovations 7 contain two helpful concepts: adopter categories and characteristics of the adoption process.

Each adoption category is shaped by different kinds of motivations and capabilities (or limitations) that shape the segment’s propensity to adopt. In our smart-grid context there are:

Innovators (~2.5 percent - the theoretical distribution) : People who find technological innovations fascinating and desirable. They’re most likely to be aware of how electricity grids function and the latest innovations, like LED lighting. Comfortable taking risks, many already have conserved substantially. Importantly, they’re probably in direct contact with others who have conserved extensively, and are likely to be very green in their lifestyles. Because of their fascination with technology, they already might understand kW and kVAR concepts and will persuade early adopters especially to increase their conservation.

Early Adopters (~13.5 percent) : Can be characterized as fast followers, and usually these are people who have broader social networks in which they function as opinion leaders. Early adopters already access information on utility Web sites and use this in modifying their energy use. Because they often are better educated, they will be able to grasp the significance of kW and, importantly, be persuasive with many other households.

Early Majority (~34 percent) : Typically are brought along by early adopters who advocate change and can answer their questions. As such, they will apply the experiences of innovators and early adopters who will help them understand why kW is important. They might be using utility Web sites but might be more influenced by comparing their energy use with that of their neighbors. This is, however, a critical group to engage because of the role they play in influencing later adopters.

Late Majority (~34 percent) : Typically are much more skeptical and rarely provide opinion leadership. As a result, adoption must be simple and require little inherent understanding. This group probably has done very little conservation beyond turning lights off, and might be most prone to resentment of any change required in their time of use.

Laggards (~16 percent) : The last group to adopt, if they ever do. People in this category likely practice little or no conservation and are most likely to resist any attempts at influencing their energy-use behavior.

Some analysts associate education level, social class and age to these categories. For any utility smart-grid application, however, the distribution and composition of these segments has yet to be established. The good news is there has been enough conservation work done that factors likely to influence the adoption of smart-grid programs ( e.g., age, appliance mix, green behaviors, or others) should be readily identifiable. But to the degree new technologies and public subsidies are involved, resistance could be significant. In the words of AARP spokesperson Marti Doneghy, “We vigorously oppose the mandatory imposition of these smart meters in peoples’ homes. Everybody has to pay for this change, and a lot of the 50-plus population simply isn’t that interested.” 8 Regulators should take note: Utilities that understand adoption characteristics and barriers to participation will