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GE's Digital Energy business has released the results of a survey measuring the U.S. public's current perception of the power grid, experiences and future expectations. In addition, GE says it found that millions of Americans are willing to pay $10 more on their monthly bills for better power reliability.

According to the Grid Resiliency Survey, conducted by Harris Poll, 82% of U.S. customers would like their utility to do more to encourage energy conservation and share ideas to improve energy efficiency in their homes. Meanwhile, 81% expect their utilities to use higher levels of renewable energy in the future to meet power needs.

The survey also underscored the importance of keeping the lights on. According to GE, more than half of utility customers (52%) become frustrated when they’re without electricity for an hour or less; meanwhile, 56% of U.S. adults were without power for an hour or more during their latest outage.

If the power goes out and consumers’ electronic devices are not charged, nearly half of U.S. adults (39%) also would be frustrated with the absence of their smartphones, with laptops following closely behind (25%), the survey adds.

GE says as energy consumers’ expectations evolve, so does the way they communicate with utilities. In the event of an outage, 70% of U.S. adults would prefer to communicate with their utilities digitally or online, whether calling them from cell phones (60%), sending text messages (14%), contacting via utility websites (11%) or sending an email (9%). Conversely, the survey says 36% of U.S. adults still prefer to communicate with their utilities via a traditional land line.

“As our expectations for up-to-the-minute data increases, consumers will demand that utilities leverage digital communication and social media tools to keep them informed in real time,” says John McDonald, director of technical strategy and policy development at GE’s Digital Energy business. “To meet this growing demand, domestic and global utilities have an opportunity to partner with consumers to better understand how their digital lifestyles are shaping their energy consumption habits.”

When gauging consumer concerns, the survey found that 50% of U.S. adults believe natural disasters and weather-related events are the greatest threat to the U.S. power grid. This threat is most evident for those in the Northeast, with 61% of U.S. adults in the region claiming weather as the greatest threat to the grid, compared to 48% in the South and Midwest, and 43% in the West.

“Natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and the recent polar vortices highlighted the challenges utilities face providing power to meet high energy demand. They also revealed the reliability challenges utilities experience when the U.S. electrical grid is under extreme stress,” says McDonald. “With summer season under way - and the potential tornados, droughts and hurricanes that come with it - utilities should ask themselves if they are any more prepared to handle this stress.”

GE also says millions of U.S. customers have indicated they would pay extra to strengthen the grid. According to the survey, 41% of Americans living east of the Mississippi River are willing to pay an additional $10 per month to ensure the grid is more reliable, compared to 34% of those living west of the river. (Notably, the survey also found that in the past 12 months, consumers living east of the Mississippi experienced nearly three times more power outages on average than those living west of it.)

“The survey results are an indicator that consumers want to invest in technology to prevent power outages and reduce the time it takes their local utility to restore power,” says McDonald. “We live in an on-demand world that depends on electricity - one where productivity, food, entertainment and even chores can be achieved with the touch of a button. Our appetite for automatic is so great that millions of American adults would be willing to pay more on their utility bills to maintain their electrified lifestyles.”

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