• 17 AUG 12
    • 1

    The brave new global world of smart appliances and stage-managed spin

    Unfortunately too many environmental groups in Australia have taken up unquestionably supporting smart grid technology as a “Green” energy saving sustainable initiative to the point that it has become a mantra not to be questioned. However, a presentation at an APEC conference however paints a different picture. In my opinion, its not about creating a sustainable future for our children, reducing our carbon footprint and all that, but all about creating a whole new brave world of ‘smart’ technologies for the consumers of the world and coincidentally generate huge profits for the many industries involved in this global marketing ploy.

    As for guiding the ignorant public’s behaviour so that they become willing consumers of these devices, IBM Institute for Business Value has kindly produced a consumer behaviour report based on a consumer survey, on how to successfully market the new technology for the consumer. The report cautions, however, that “it is critical to recognize that almost half of consumers are deficient in even basic knowledge”. Interesting that the survey questions did not include concerns over possible health effects. The only possible mention of this in the IBM report was a vague reference to “unrealistic perceptions”. Any discussion of health effects seems to be in the “he who must not be named” category.

    To quote in part from the IBM report:

    Tapping into the inherently social nature of people is another way to encourage the adoption of new ideas – and one that will become increasingly important as today’s teenagers and young adults move into the customer base. “Social proof,” or observation of the habits of others, is a critical determinant in how people react to unfamiliar situations. This is the key idea behind new concepts such as interactive Web portals that allow consumers to compare their energy usage to that of their neighbors. Being able to make comparisons also taps into the instinct many people have for competition.

    Conclusion: In general, energy providers and utilities have done a good job of painting a vision – getting consumers, regulators and the media to imagine what possibilities new energy technologies lend to the future. They have also garnered a sense of what new products and services might create the greatest value and satisfaction. However, this successful communication of the broad societal case for smart grid and smart meter technologies may have created an environment in which the long-term possible benefits have come to represent the immediate expectation of benefits. This has created an opening for influential parties – who now have a stronger voice than ever due to consumers’ increasing reliance on sources outside their providers’ control – to paint this gradual build-up of capabilities and benefits as a failure to provide them at all.
    Without a good core knowledge level on which they can rely, consumers can only work with what they learn through their most trusted channels, even if inaccurate. This is why it is critical to recognize that almost half of consumers are deficient in even basic knowledge. The good news that comes out of this survey is if that knowledge core can be improved, higher levels of approval and willingness to engage are likely to follow, and system and societal goals can be easier to meet.
    Regardless of their knowledge bases, consumers have perceptions that result from existing influences and knowledge levels must be taken seriously, as they are the most important factors driving expectations and willingness to engage. It will be critical for energy providers, governments and other parties with a stake in the future of the smart grid to discuss perceptions in an honest and complete manner, regardless of source or context. For example, perceptions on privacy are critical; tell consumers how each of them is being addressed in meter and data deployment and oversight plans. Even unrealistic perceptions should be addressed with an honest explanation of how any negative outcomes will be avoided or mitigated. Examples across other consumer impacts – such as meter accuracy, total costs and health effects – need to get the same scrutiny and care in communication.

    This is all public relations spin devoid of public health concerns – the old line that the public is basically ignorant but this can be cured by a good dose of well managed spin.

    I think that the concerned people of Victoria are more than that.

    Don Maisch

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