Consumers Reluctant to Hand Over Control to Smart Appliances: Survey

A new survey suggests steep discounts in electricity prices would be needed to cajole consumers into giving utilities remote control over their appliances, a key component of future energy efficiency plans.

The survey of more than 9,000 consumers in 17 countries by consulting firm Accenture showed that, without an offer of a price discount, a measly 16 percent of consumers would allow utilities remote control over appliances. That figure rose to 24 percent with a 10 percent price discount, and 35 with a 20 percent reduction in rates.

Those percentages are still far less than half of consumers. Part of the reason: the survey question included the assumption that consumers would have no way to override such utility control, a vaguely Orwellian proposition that would probably scare off many consumers, no matter how steep the discount.

GE currently runs a smart appliance pilot program in Louisville KY that has demonstrated some success and popularity with those participating, but all appliances in the program can have their smart features overridden by consumers–a key part of the appeal, according to a company press release. In November, GE began selling its first smart appliance in the US, a water heater (see photo) that can reduce energy consumption an estimated 62 percent, according to Treehugger.

The Accenture survey also found consumers wary of electricity suppliers having their best interests in mind. Forty-one percent of those surveyed said they would be deterred from using energy management programs by the suspicion that any energy they conserved would be resold by the utility for a profit.

As for whether social pressure would encourage them to use an energy management program, nearly half of Americans–the highest percentage of any of the countries surveyed–said other people’s enrollment in such programs would not influence their opinion of them.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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