Utility bills in U.S. lack innovative energy messaging, study finds

Washington, DC, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — December 5, 2011 – The majority of energy utility bills in the U.S. lack the innovative elements, such as pro-efficiency messaging, energy efficiency specific tips and peer comparisons, that may motivate consumers to take energy saving actions, according to a new report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The report, The State of the Utility Bill by Ben Foster and Elena Alschuler, is based on the analysis of one hundred utility bills. It found that the average customer is being provided with basic accounting information such as current usage and the total amount due, supplemented by specific rate information. Further, the average customer is getting some comparative feedback, most often the previous month’s usage. Most bills also include the previous year’s usage, the customer’s average daily usage and a graph of typically 13 months of usage data.

However, the question remains whether customers actually grasp such metrics and are using them to better control energy usage. At the very least, the inclusion of the “innovative elements” could make bills into a critical “touchpoint” as utilities seek to engage customers in their smart grid plans.

The report’s authors propose that a “good” bill provides both accounting information and historical feedback on actual consumption. Average daily cost, temperature and degree day information all provide other contexts against which to measure energy saving actions and were easily integrated into the design of bills that included them.

Further, because feedback is a necessary but not sufficient condition for motivating customers to take energy saving actions, a good bill also should include other innovative information elements, such as those listed above. These elements seem especially amenable to being wrapped into utilities’ smart grid related outreach plans.

As utilities expect more customers to move online to find information about their energy use, there is a role for an improved paper bill to be a cost effective means of capturing energy savings and customer goodwill, the authors conclude.