Utilities across the country are switching to smart meters—a vital component of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI)—but one question remains: Are their customers on board? Research Into Action took a closer look at this issue for one of our Northwest clients as they prepared to embark on their smart meter roll-out.
What we did
Research Into Action conducted telephone and web surveys with almost 1,000 of our client’s residential customers to gather insights on overall awareness and perceptions of smart meters in their service territory. The survey also gauged the effectiveness of specific customer value propositions around smart meters and tested opposition messaging, which has recently surfaced among members of a small, but vocal community in the U.S. and abroad.
The survey assessed customer responses to the potential benefits of smart meters, such as improved safety in the form of gas-leak prevention, faster response to outages and blackout prevention, and higher power quality. Other benefits included having greater control over their home energy use and improved connectivity and communication via smart or mobile devices.
On the other end of the spectrum, the survey asked customers the extent to which they were concerned about the alleged risks associated with AMI, which opposition groups often cite. These include installation costs and higher utility bills, as well as cybersecurity, privacy, freedom, and health and safety.
What we learned
The study revealed several key insights:
- While the utility’s customers are moderately aware of smart meters, very few possess any intimate knowledge of the technology.
- Before receiving detailed information on smart meters, about half of the customers initially supported them, and a third expressed no opinion.
- Customers acknowledge that smart meters have both benefits and drawbacks, but the good outweighs the potential bad.
- Customers believe AMI’s biggest benefits include reliability and safety, and they are most concerned about AMI costs and cybersecurity.
- Customers are least concerned about potential safety issues associated with AMI.
- Support for AMI is highest among customers under 40 years old and multifamily renters.
- AMI opposition is highest among senior citizens and single-family home owners.
- Support for AMI greatly improves after rebutting common concerns or explaining its benefits.
- The utility’s AMI deployment will likely face little resistance.
While this study focused on customers in the Northwest, findings from this effort point to the general importance of crafting a strategic and comprehensive communications plan to successfully deploy smart meters. Anticipating and developing strong rebuttals to concerns will go a long way toward building support for AMI. And, while some customers staunchly oppose smart meters, they are in the minority.