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While most Canadians have a limited understanding of smart grids, they become increasingly favorable toward the concept once they have a better understanding, according to a new survey conducted by nonprofit SmartGrid Canada.

The survey found that only 31% of respondents initially indicated that they had at least a basic understanding of smart grids, with only 27% stating that they were favorable to the concept. Once survey respondents were provided a brief definition of smart grids, however, favorability increased to 54%.

"Encouraging Canadians to participate in the smart grid is the single biggest action we can all take to improve the efficiency of the system and avoid new investment in infrastructure," says Alex Bettencourt, managing director of SmartGrid Canada. "We have to provide consumers with the information they need to decide for themselves whether they want to get on board."

Other findings of the research include the following:

- Consumers ranked cost (57%), comfort and convenience (23%) and the environment (20%) as the most important factors for their electricity use.

- Canadians largely see smart grid enhancements as benefiting the system and do not see the value they themselves will draw from a smarter grid. While 73% associated smart grids with fewer and shorter outages, only 17% associated the term with home automation systems.

- The majority of respondents (54%) indicated that they found the idea of receiving a real-time energy use monitor from their local utility appealing.

- Some respondents (29%) showed an interest in participating in a load control program that would allow an electric utility or third party to reduce their water heater use when demands on the grid are highest.

- Among the perceived downsides of smart grids, 37% of respondents believe smart grids could lead to a loss of control over their energy use and 32% worry about privacy.

"These results clearly point to the need to bring the consumer into the conversation about smart grids. We need to make the benefits of smart grids real for them," adds Bettencourt.

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