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The smart grid can foster an "energy divide" for low-income consumers, according to a new research report published by the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC).

The SGCC, a nonprofit organization that aims to advance the adoption of smart grids, says that with a substantial portion of the consumer benefits of smart grids coming from greater awareness of energy usage, many low-income consumers - particularly older consumers - lack access to utility Web portals and other online resources.

In fact, the study indicates that 23% of U.S. residential low-income consumers have not accessed the Internet in over six months. An even greater number - just under half - of low-income consumers age 65 and older indicate that they have not accessed the Internet in the past six months.

However, there are utilities taking steps to address this issue, the SGCC notes. For example, Pepco Holdings Inc. makes its advanced metering infrastructure interval data available to customers through call center representatives and paper reports.

The SGCC also reports that there is a significant gap between renters and homeowners regarding the ability to increase energy efficiency improvements within their places of residence. For example, 57% of renters say that they are not allowed to make changes to their home or appliances to increase overall energy efficiency.

"Every consumer, regardless of socioeconomic status, should be aware of the benefits the smart grid provides," comments SGCC Executive Director Patty Durand. "In order to increase awareness of a consumer-safe, consumer-friendly smart grid, utilities must be innovative and create a multi-channel approach to disseminating valuable smart grid data to low-income consumers."

The "Spotlight on Low Income Consumers II" report is the second part of a national study first conducted in 2012. The report can be downloaded here.

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