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How smart, really, are smart grid investments?

Posting in Energy

You know that adage about perception being reality? Well, consider that phrase in the context of a new EcoPinion study called "Green Gap Redux: Green ...

You know that adage about perception being reality? Well, consider that phrase in the context of a new EcoPinion study called "Green Gap Redux: Green Words Gone Wrong," released by EcoAlign, a company that tracks consumer perceptions of the clean-tech and green-tech movements.

This is the company's sixth EcoPinion study, which tracks awareness and understanding of various phrases and terms associated with green business. There are tons of different data points discussed but the one that I found most interesting early on this crisp fall morning, when my heat has decided to kick on, suggests that despite all the oodles of money that the Obama administration and more and more state governments are throwing at smart grid investments, the government is the least likely to benefit from this technology. At least that's the perception.

According to the response, the survey respondents believe that the environment itself will derive the most benefit from smart energy and smart meter investments (with 31 percent), followed by the utility companies (17 percent). Residential consumers were listed third with 13 percent, slightly before the government with 12 percent of the responses. More older Americans (those above the age of 55) were likely to doubt the smart grid's benefits for the government.

When the question was flipped around and the respondents were asked to name the entity least likely to benefit from smart energy and smart meter investments, the government was the top response (with 29 percent).

So, reality check No. 1. If the general public believes that the government isn't likely to get much out of the money it is spending on the smart grid, how long will it tolerate tax dollars going to those investments. All those smart grid stimulus grants being given out this fall better produce results. Stat. And they better be made public.

A second data point of interest to smart grid proponents is the fact that most of the survey respondents described themselves as a "cost-conscious saver" (41 percent) or a "value buyer" (20 percent). Hmmm. How easy will it be to get almost two-thirds of the population to spend more for services made possible by the smart grid. Not very. But you knew this, right.

But the point being that while insiders like you and me get excited about this sort of thing, most of our neighbors will need much more evidence before they buy into the smart grid. Better yet, they won't need to buy into the smart grid at all, it will just become a part of their standard service set, one which won't cost them more money.

Which makes me wonder: Who's going to pay for all this investment?

The latest EcoPinion study was based on about 1,000 online interviews conducted in September 2009. The company balanced the responses to match the U.S. population by age, gender, region and ethnicity. The survey can be downloaded (if you register) at this link.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure