As record-setting heat enveloped the United States over the summer, electricity providers increasingly turned to an array of demand response programs to maintain the reliability of the grid and prevent brownouts and blackouts. While these programs are undoubtedly a mainstay of the modern electric grid, they’re still somewhat unfamiliar to the average consumer.
To gain insights on how Americans are cooling their homes and what they think about demand response, the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) recently conducted the “Cooling High Summer Electric Bills” survey, which reached a nationally representative sample of 1,516 consumers in mid-August. In addition to questions about the types of thermostats and cooling systems that Americans are using to deal with sweltering summer heat, the survey posed questions around willingness to participate in demand response and consumer sentiment toward electricity providers for promoting demand response to customers.
To assess the latter, consumers were presented with a brief definition of demand response and a simplified explanation of why an electricity provider may utilize such a program. Consumers were then presented with an overview of a specific demand response program where an electricity provider remotely adjusts air conditioning in the summer months (by no more than a few degrees and for no more than a few hours) in exchange for a small bill discount, a cash incentive or a free smart thermostat.
Finally, the survey respondents were asked how they would feel about their electricity provider offering a program like this: very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative or very negative.
Somewhat surprisingly, only a small minority (17 percent) of consumers feel either very or somewhat negative toward electricity providers for offering these programs, despite some negative press that has followed a few demand response events in recent years. Furthermore, about a third (32 percent) of consumers feel neutral, leaving 51 percent that feel positively about their electricity providers offering a program where they briefly control thermostats.
Consumers were then asked directly about their willingness to participate in two programs – one where consumers voluntarily adjust their thermostats for a few degrees and for just a few hours and one where their provider automatically makes these adjustments.
The voluntary program was predictably more popular with consumers, with 60 percent stating that they would participate in such a program for a small bill discount or cash incentive. The program where the provider automatically adjusts the thermostats, however, still had 32 percent of consumers saying that they would be willing to participate. And only 24 percent of consumers said they would not participate in either, meaning 76 percent of Americans are willing to participate in some form of demand response.
For many consumers, the notion of adjusting their thermostat at the request of their electricity provider is still a relatively new concept. However, the new survey shows that most consumers are willing participants in these programs, and with the right customer communications and financial incentives, interest will likely only continue to grow.
To learn more how Americans are cooling their homes and how they feel about demand response programs, view the “Cooling High Summer Electric Bills” infographic here.