This new report helps smart grid planners understand what makes energy consumers tick

Less than a third of utility customers are “highly” engaged with their energy use, according to a new study by the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC).

At the same time, most customers consistently convey a desire to become savvier energy consumers  -- and they expect personalized information and advice from their utility to do so.

That represents a huge opportunity for utilities. So, how can they help bridge the gap?

In the SGCC’s study — Motivations & Emotions of Engaged Consumers — the authors shed light on what motivates people to engage with their energy use and interact more deeply with their utilities.

As part of the study, about 500 utility customers were asked a series of interview questions relating to a variety of energy products, services, and experiences. Based on their responses, consumers were divided into three buckets corresponding to their overall level of energy engagement: high (28%), average (41%), and low (31%).

In all three groups, a vast majority of consumers indicated that they believe it’s important to reduce energy use and avoid wasting energy. This is consistent with what we’ve seen in past studies. However, the motivations for energy conservation varied considerably by group.

On the whole, low-engagement consumers said they were primarily motivated by financial incentives. They were also more likely to come from low-income households, more likely to be renters, and less likely to express an interest in buying energy efficiency products.

Average-engagement consumers also talked about the importance of saving money, but many mentioned environmental stewardship as an additional motivator.

Highly engaged energy consumers — many of whom were college graduates with a home, a family, and household income greater than $75,000 — said that saving money, protecting the environment, and practicing civic responsibility were all important reasons to save energy.

We’ve reported before all types of customers -- regardless of demographic characteristics like income, age, or even political affiliation -- consistently save energy when they are equipped with personalized tools and advice to do so. While saving money and the environment certainly provide some level of motivation, factors like peer influence and behavioral nudges can also do wonders for driving customers to take control of their energy use.

Interestingly, the SGCC report also revealed a gap between perception and reality when it comes to energy behavior. A strong majority in every consumer group reported a high level of “energy consciousness,” regardless of their actual level of energy engagement:



A majority of respondents in each engagement group believed they were “highly energy conscious,” despite their actual level of engagement. (Source: SGCC)

This finding isn’t a huge surprise to us. Opower’s own research shows that around the world, the vast majority of consumers believe they’re better than average at saving energy — even though everyone being “better than average” is a statistical impossibility.

Regardless of why people engage with their utilities, or whether they have an accurate perception of their energy use, SGCC found that customers are happiest when they’re saving energy. And no one is in a better position to ensure utility customer happiness than utilities.

After all, 66 percent of energy consumers look to their utility for energy-saving services. And customers who have received such engagement clearly feel higher satisfaction: participants in Opower’s engagement programs have consistently shown customer sentiment levels six percent higher than utility customers who haven’t participated in the program.

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