Successful utility themes for advancing the modern energy consumer

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The US Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative has highlighted successful utility programmes for residential and small business customers.

The new report from the Collaborative, a US industry non-profit that has played a key role in identifying the wants and needs of consumers, builds on its latest ‘state of the consumer’ study released in March to highlight some real world examples of utility programmes that are advancing the modern energy consumer.

Since the introduction of smart metering for residential consumers, over the past decade or so many initiatives have been introduced evolving from basic in-home energy consumption displays to smartphone app-based connected appliances and homes.

Some inevitably have been more successful than others and different types of consumers have different needs from others, depending on factors from income to interest. With the pressure to move towards net zero, such programmes are only set to increase in importance as the need will grow to double down on energy management and use to meet those targets.

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Indeed, in its new pathway to net zero by 2050 the IEA has indicated behavioural change as one of the key pillars of energy sector decarbonisation, suggesting changes to building heating and cooling and transport use among others.

Consumer connections

The new report follows the themes identified in the state of the consumer report, of which one was that consumers are making the connection between smart energy and slowing climate change.

Consumer education is an important enabler and an example is Ameren Illinois’ student energy education kit for fifth and sixth graders, which has reached an estimated almost 19,500 consumers, more than double the reach of the annual energy efficiency programme participants. Students are tasked with hands-on activities to track water and energy consumption and encouraged to become ‘energy ambassadors’ in their homes and communities.

Another is Con Edison’s smart meter rollout, which has enabled the delivery of real time insights and energy savings with a value of nearly $300 per participant. Austin Energy’s electric vehicle guide has led to the sale of nearly 6,000 EVs in its service territory since the launch.

Another finding of the consumer report was that consumers across all segments are interested in smart energy enabled products. An example of a utility programme is Duke Energy’s smart home pilot which demonstrated various smart devices in 33 homes.

National Grid introduced a ‘Welcome Home’ campaign offering new low income home owners a Nest thermostat and Sacramento Municipal Utility District initiated a virtual energy assessment platform for energy saving opportunities and recommendations.

Consumer offerings

Theme three out of the state of the consumer study was that lower income consumers are keenly interested in smart energy and the environment.

This is exemplified in Puget Sound Energy’s ‘Manufactured home initiative’, which targeted homes for energy efficiency upgrades and resulted in a 54% increase in participation and almost 200% increase in kWh savings.

Tennessee Valley Authority similarly ran a targeted home energy upgrade programme, while Mississippi Power has offered free home energy audits and energy efficiency items reaching 5,000 homes in the past six years.

Consumers also were found to need more education in how to assess a programme or technology.

Time-of-use rate offerings has proved a successful strategy for Southern California Edison attracting almost half a million consumers. Austin Energy introduced a residential solar education programme, which has resulted in a halving of the solar installation lifecycle.

DTE Energy’s home energy management solution has led to a roughly 50% increase in visits to the energy advisory tool.

Consumer engagement

In the aftermath of the first year of Covid a theme that emerged was of consumers looking to their energy providers for support as they deal with the impact.

North Carolina Electric Cooperatives was poised to launch its new ‘Connect to save’ demand response programme and going ahead with it was able to provide community support through millions of dollars of donations to local charities and other causes.

Alliant Energy’s digital consumer experience platform enabling consumers to customise their bill payment terms attracted more than 4,000 payment arrangements in the first two weeks, while Consumers Energy’s virtual coaching initiative has received over 12,000 consumer calls and performed 400 virtual assessments.

Consumer engagement also is essential to realising the promise of beneficial electrification and technologies such as smart metering.

AEP Ohio’s small business customer engagement solution has seen almost 4,000 detailed usage report downloads. Tennessee Valley Authority’s business programme includes an augmented reality feature enabling inspections and virtual energy audits of facilities.

Southern Company with its ‘Smart Neighbourhood’ initiative is demonstrating how homeowners may interact with energy in the future.

The Collaborative says in the report that the smart energy industry and consumers are on a journey together and consumers are ready to take the next step no matter their income level or segment.

“With the right tools and education, they can start to fully take advantage of smart energy technology or programmes that meet their interests. It is the job of power industry stakeholders to help consumers understand how a smart energy ecosystem benefits them, whether the benefits are financial, reduced environmental impact or increased reliability.”

For more on the example utility programmes, access the report here.