Private consumers

Stakeholder role in grid projects: 

The residential sector represents the second most consuming sector in the EU after the industrial sector, with nearly 30% of the EU’s final electricity consumption. Consumers are also an important source of revenue for electricity producers and, indirectly, the organisations that develop and maintain the grids.

Similar to Industrial consumers, Private consumers are interested in low electricity prices.  In many European countries, Private consumers have also shown a preference for electrical power stemming from renewable sources. Grid extension projects typically help to integrate renewables and can also contribute to enhancing energy trade markets, potentially reducing energy prices for consumers. At the same time, grid projects incur costs which typically have to be at least partly borne by Private consumers. Private consumers may also be sensitive to the issue of security of supply, particularly in countries or regions which have experienced blackouts or disruptions in supply.

Since Private consumers involve the largest number of individuals of any of the stakeholder groups, they are highly important due to their combined purchasing as well as electoral power. While Private consumers – if they do not form part of other affected stakeholder groups – usually do not have a strong interest in specific grid projects, their representatives may be involved in discussions on EU or national energy planning decisions, which will then impact implementation at the local level. At the same time, energy prices are a highly contentious issue in national politics which can even change electoral outcomes. The interests and positions of Private consumers hence cannot be ignored by other stakeholders, such as elected officials, thus influencing their actions and positions. 

In addition, even Private consumers who are not directly affected by grid development projects may be influenced by information on the subject presented in the Media. Media representations of the general discussion on grid development, as well as of specific projects, may have an impact on the way they are perceived by Private consumers and may lead to particular opinions on the issue amongst consumers.

Primary concern with grid projects: 
Usual patterns: 

Private consumers have a variety of concerns. Typically, their most important concerns centre on the affordability of electricity prices. Private consumers usually wish to avoid significant increases in private electricity bills stemming from incurred during grid extension projects. At the same time, in a number of EU Member States, Private consumers favour the increased integration of renewable energies. In Member States where power blackouts have happened in recent times Private consumers are also typically sensitive to the issue of security of power supply.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Will the project itself have any impact on either the security of supply or prices of electricity for Private consumers? 

  • Are the needs of Private consumers identified with respect to the specific grid project?

Topography within stakeholder group: 
Usual patterns: 

Private consumers can be categorised based on which concerns prevail for them. Typically, less wealthy Private consumers are most interested in keeping electricity bills at affordable rates. In contrast, for wealthier consumers electricity bills may be somewhat less important whereas aspects such as the integration of renewables gain importance.

In addition to individual consumers, in some countries, associations have been founded to represent the consumers’ interests at a national or supra-national level.

 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • What are the key consumer associations in the country / region in which the project is to take place? 

  • How will energy demand from Private consumers develop in the country/region affected by a specific grid project?   

  • How important is the potential impact on electricity bills for the Private consumers potentially affected by a specific grid project?

Individuals within stakeholder organisations/entities: 
Usual patterns: 

Private consumers are a very heterogeneous group in which specific individuals typically cannot be identified as more important for communications than others. However, where consumer associations exist, communications staff may exist and could be responsible for communications relating to grid development among other topics. Consumer associations likely deal with a variety of subjects of interest to consumers, among them energy and electricity.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Who are the main contact persons at consumer associations dealing with grid projects?
  • How engaged/active are those associations in grid projects?
Project stage for engagement: 
Usual patterns: 

At this stage of the project, Private consumers as well as consumer associations should be invited to participate in the discussion and to provide inputs for determining the need for new grids. Involving Private consumers at this early stage helps establish a climate of transparency and trust and ensures that the interests of this sizable stakeholder group are included adequately.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Are consumers associations or other representatives involved in the dialogue on grid planning? In what capacity? On what level (e.g. regional, national, EU?)
Usual patterns: 

The input of consumer associations is essential at this stage of the project to effectively detect possible disruptions to service or to monitor whether consumers can really benefit from the grid extension in a fair and appropriate manner. Consumers can also signal the effects of grid extension on household electricity bills.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Are Private consumers directly affected by a local project? 

  • If so, how may they voice their opinion on the project and to whom? 

Adequate communication channels for participation/cooperation: 
Usual patterns: 

Consumer associations can be engaged at closed-door-meetings and Roundtables, especially those surrounding the “Determination of need” stage, in order to ensure that their position and input on grid development is taken into account.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • At which national- or regional-level events (conferences, Roundtables, meetings, etc.) can consumer associations present their perspective and their needs?
Usual patterns: 

Since Private consumers are a large, heterogeneous group they are best addressed by supra-regional traditional mass Media (including newspapers, television, and radio). Through this channel they can be informed about all relevant news on plans for grid extension and the potential relevance for Private consumers’ interests. The way in which such information is presented in the Media can also influence consumers’ general attitude towards grid development or specific projects, even if they are not directly affected.
In addition, Project websites can include sections of general interest to Private consumers, e.g. the impacts of grid projects on electricity prices and supply.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Which Media outlets (television, radio, newspaper, etc.) provide the best access to the desired Private consumers?
Adequate communication formats for participation/cooperation: 
Usual patterns: 

As most Private consumers are non-experts, information that combines both text and visual elements can be particularly useful to communicate information about the grid project. 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Which information on a specific grid project requires visualisation in order to be easier understandable for Private consumers?
Country-specific examples: 

In Germany, both the integration of renewables and electricity prices play a strong role for Private consumers. Following Germany’s decision to strongly foster the expansion of renewable energy production, Private consumers have shouldered much of the resulting costs, as larger Industrial consumers have been largely exempted from surcharges. While German citizens largely support the transition to green energy, many are struggling with electricity prices that are amongst the highest in Europe, and are calling for costs to be distributed fairly amongst different consumers.

Integration of renewable energy sources often tends to be less of an issue for consumers in Central and Eastern European Member States such as Poland, while a modern, functional grid and interconnection may be more important issues for these consumers. In addition, a large share of the population of Central and Eastern European Member States is rather sensitive to rising electricity bills, as for example protests against increases in energy prices in Bulgaria have shown.

In Spain, 18% of the electricity generation is produced using wind power. Several grid extension projects have been carried out during the last ten years, most of them controversial, in order to introduce those renewable sources to the system and to improve its resilience over the intermittency of the renewables electricity production. In order to better explain to the citizens the importance of carrying out grid extension projects, an itinerant Exhibition was organised in 2010 in which the Grid operating was explained, as well as the importance of adopting more sustainable behaviours of energy consumption. The Practice Example “Itinerant Exhibition by REE”, which is part of this toolkit, explains REE’s successful approach in detail.