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Green Building News

Older Americans and the Smart Grid

Researchers explore how age affects attitudes about a more interactive electric grid

Older Americans think that reliable electric service and saving money are the chief advantages of a 'smart grid' that uses new technologies to monitor and influence the use of electricity.
Image Credit: Stock.xchng / Public domain

What benefits would a “smart grid” offer consumers? Research suggests the answer depends on how old you are.

New digital technology, including the deployment of wireless “smart meters,” has the potential to transform the way electricity is distributed and used. But younger and older consumers are apparently looking for different things, according to an analysis of consumer attitudes by the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative.

Patty Durand, the group’s executive director, writes in a blog posted by the Environmental Defense Fund that older Americans believe that “saving money” and “reliability” are the biggest benefits of a smart grid. Younger people think that saving energy is more important.

Not much is known about seniors’ attitudes to smart grids and energy programs, Durand says, so the survey breaks new ground in the industry. Researchers made two groupings of older people — 55 and older, and 65 and older — and then compared their answers to the general population.

Some puzzling data

Although older consumers think that saving money is a key benefit of a smart grid, Durand writes, “Ironically, seniors are less likely than their younger counterparts (18-54) to participate in or have an interest in smart grid programs and technologies that have the potential to save them money.”

Still, among seniors who looked favorably on smart meters, the primary reason was lower costs. “More than half of the seniors surveyed said they would participate in ‘critical peak rebate programs,’ also known as demand response – an energy conservation tool that pays people to save energy when the electric grid is stressed,” Durand says.

Durand’s guest blog at the Environmental Defense Fund’s website offered a summary of findings, but the full text of the survey is behind a pay wall. According to Durand, the analysis also found that:

  • One-fifth of the older people who were polled didn’t know how to identify trustworthy information about the smart grid, “suggesting an opportunity for utilities to position themselves in this role.”
  • Seniors want to get their information from traditional channels — print, radio and television. “Utilities need to be cognizant of media preferences when engaging seniors,” Durand writes.
  • Utilities need to do more to “engage and educate” the public about the benefits of a smart grid.

5 Comments

  1. Aaron Gatzke | | #1

    Ironic comment
    I wonder how old Patty is when she considers it 'ironic that seniors are less likely to invest in new technologies that can save them money'. Maybe seniors are smarter than she thinks. They may have heard that a lot of these new technologies have a very long payback period. If you are 70, would you be willing to install a product that may take 10 years before you even get your money back?

    Also if you are of the age where you have lived through a time where utilities and services were not reliable, you might value reliability over saving energy.

    As a senior, you may be less mobile, more susceptible to cold, poorer eyesight, dependent upon medical devices requiring electricity, that you are not willing to live without reliable utilities.

  2. Flitch Plate | | #2

    Get to know your grandparents
    Come on … do they believe their own sales pitches.

    I guess I am a senior now since I consider payback period to be meaningless unless it's within 5 to 7 years. Long term payback period planning is the language of banks and salesmen. Capital cost outlay and mortgage debt are more important to us.

    And there is a trusim in business, industry and design, that old folks learn in life: Variety and complexity is the mother of cost.

    We want solutions that bring simplicity to our lives, that reduce operating costs and debt, not silly talk like "net zero" through increased debt, capital outlay and greater liability. These are solutions for people with money and income, who think they will live forever, not for those who face fixed incomes.

    But let's be honest about energy supply. The energy industry is protected by regulators who give them structural advantages to profiteer. In rural Western NY we pay 30 cents per Kwh and right now $2.40/gal for propane. Those prices are allowed to prevail when crude oil is below $50/barrel. How can anyone look us in the eyes and justify that?

    Perhaps seniors have enough life under their belts to know that there is never a free lunch.

  3. Rjp : | | #3

    Smart Grid does not mean Smart Meters or AC Shutdowns
    The one reliable fact in this story is that the utility companies don't explain what a Smart Grid really is. Nor does this summary of the referenced blog (which in itself is a problem, a blog referencing a blog). In my mind, a Smart Grid is what Japan and other countries have, a reliable way to prevent blackouts by instantaneously connecting and isolating neighboring power grids. Today most regional utilities still require a man to watch a phase meter to do the same, resulting in cascading blackouts and slow recoveries. The ability to do this kind of switching automatically saves the grid and makes it reliable. Ask a young person in New York City about electric reliability and they will vote it number one. They know it can fail and has several times in their short lifetimes.

    Smart Meters are simply ways to allow a utility to remotely read a residential or commercial meter, successfully deployed for many years in large quantities. Sometimes a web interface provides daily usage back to the consumer. Compressor lockouts are also old news. It's true that these simple expedients cause "privacy" issues among some; but one suspects those concerns come from the kind of folks who thought the world was flat a few hundred years ago.

  4. Steve Vigoren | | #4

    Agree with rjp
    Smart grid reduces power outages by managing the grid better. Smart meters have been around for years and allow power companies to get rid of meter readers, and I guess be more efficient.
    Nothing there to see. However, flitch plate, as a senior citizen I do have a great interest in installing some solar panels even if the payback will not occur in my lifetime. I hope to build a new retirement home after I retire,(soon!) and I expect to pay more to make it green, even though the 'green' will not pay for itself, maybe, until I am no longer be around to see it happen. I do not see why this would not be the way most people would act, if they have the opportunity. The part about the greedy utility companies I agree with.

  5. Jim Erdman | | #5

    I'm a senior
    As a senior who bought his first PVs in the early 1980s and has added to them regularly since then, I think that "Smart Grid" hasn't been explained or defined so the average person, let alone the average senior, has no idea what it is or could be. I'm also thinking of building a new home for retirement due to possible health issues, and it will certainly be as "green" and low energy consuming as possible without regard for "payback". If payback was the big concern, I wouldn't today be producing more electricity than our home and car use and thinking of installing more PVs.

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