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Canadian consumers clearly want to be engaged with smart grids, but they want to know more about the value these technologies can deliver, according to a national online survey conducted by nonprofit SmartGrid Canada in partnership with the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).

"This survey reveals a window of opportunity for our industry," says Alex Bettencourt, managing director of SmartGrid Canada. "Canadians are, by and large, very open to the concept of smart grids and smart homes. While they may have an inkling of what it might entail, there's clearly a need for our industry to raise awareness levels through large-scale education efforts and address consumer concerns about cost, control and privacy."

The online survey collected responses from more than 2,000 Canadians in September. Other findings of the report include the following:

- While favorability levels for smart grids and smart homes were high (68% and 69%, respectively), awareness levels were low. Only 27% of respondents indicated that they had, at minimum, a basic knowledge of smart grids, and 40% claimed they had at least some understanding of smart homes.

- Seventy-two percent of Ontarians indicated that they have changed their energy use in response to time-of-use rates, with a slightly lower percentage (69%) believing that these efforts are having an impact on their bills.

- While only 17% of Canadians outside of Ontario indicated that they would like to make the switch to time-of-use rates, more than half were interested in learning more about variable pricing options.

- In terms of personal expenditures on smart home technologies, many consumers indicated that they would be willing to do the following:
  • Forty-five percent of respondents said that they already have or would consider purchasing a smart appliance within the next three to five years;
  • Almost a third said they already have or would consider participating in a load control program, which would allow their utility or another third party to reduce their air conditioning or water heater use during peak demand;
  • A similar percentage were interested in downloading a mobile app that would show how much energy they were using; and
  • Just under a quarter of respondents were likely to buy, lease or rent an electric car.
- Just over a third of respondents indicated that they would be willing to pay one to two dollars more each month to reduce carbon emissions. This was higher than the proportion who were willing to pay more to reduce the number of power outages (29%).

- Among the perceived downsides of smart grids, 37% of Canadians believe smart grids could lead to a loss of control over their energy use. Although 71% of Canadians felt that smart grids will either save money or be revenue neutral, 28% believed that they will result in higher costs in the long run.

“As utilities and others improve our electricity system with smart grid technologies, we have to provide consumers with the information they need to understand the opportunities these changes create and decide for themselves whether they want to get on board,” says Paul Murphy, president and CEO of IESO. “Smart grids offer so many options for consumers - detailed consumption information, more efficient appliances, in-home generation and electric cars, for example. All these opportunities can provide many benefits to the consumer - and the system as a whole.”

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