08.30.13

Creating a True Partnership between Consumers and Utility Companies

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:00 pm by Administrator

Is it possible for us pampered North Americans to continue to enjoy a  lifestyle supported by power-hungry appliances and technology while at  the same time being environmentally responsible?  Can this take place in a true partnership with the local utility company that we have loved to hate for decades.  The answer to both questions is a resounding “yes!”

As I have discussed in a previous posting, public awareness regarding the importance of conservation and  time-shifting electricity use away from peak demand times is absolutely  essential.  Japan has done a great job of that after having to shut down most of their nuclear plants which represented 28% of electricity  supply before the Fukushima plant disaster.  Prominent public displays  of real-time electricity usage, “weather report” style current usage  reports and forecasts on the TV news and requests to curtail  power-hungry operations announced over company inter-com systems all  help to keep the need for conservation and reduced peak demand high on  the public agenda.

A recently released study by J.D. powers confirms the relationship between stronger customer engagement and  overall customer satisfaction. The study found that customers who were  participating in any utility-sponsored program scored about 10% higher  on a customer satisfaction survey than those who were not aware that  these programs existed. And these are not exciting programs; paperless  billing, in-home energy audits and rebates on Energy Star appliances  were the big hitters. What would happen if utilities offered their  customers programs that could reduce their monthly bills in a meaningful way?

Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) has done just that and the  result was another #1 rating for OG&E amongst large utilities in the southern region. The actual number earned by OG&E, 683 on a 1,000 point scale, is the highest  amongst large utilities in the entire U.S.

What is really  encouraging about the OG&E result is the way they achieved it. A  quote from their press release summarizes their customer-centric  approach which is making increasing use of both the most advanced  real-time energy monitoring technology and social media.

“Last year, OG&E rolled out its SmartHours™ pricing program, which allows customers to save when energy costs are lower, or off peak, as well as  myOGEpower, an online energy management tool. Used together, myOGEpower  and SmartHours can help make customer savings easier through time-based  pricing programs and almost real-time usage information. The company  also increased its use of social media channels Facebook and Twitter to  keep customers informed about outages as well as programs and services.”

The OG&E website is filled with material that is appealing and  informative.  For example, the graphic below provides a simple and  effective summary of how the “Smart Hours” program works.

The company web site also offers games and activities that allow customers  to earn points, win tickets to sporting events and other incentives for  “spreading the word” about OG&E programs such as their voluntary  wind power purchase program.  By providing “cool zones” to help  vulnerable members of the public avoid heat-related illnesses and offering many high-profile public education programs OG&E  continues to build broad community support for conservation and  sustainable energy initiatives.

At the heart of any demand  response program whether it be strictly on a “good citizen” basis or  whether it involves financial incentives is the ability to understand  residential electricity use on an hourly basis.  That requires smart  meters.  Unfortunately, “smart meters” have received a lot of bad press  based upon highly questionable allegations of potential health risks and invasions of privacy.  As a result it is absolutely necessary to address customer concerns during the rollout of any smart meter program.

A comprehensive study by the Smartgrid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) in 2011 investigated  about 150 smart grid initiatives in an attempt to identify consistent  success factors.  As might be expected, the reputation and public trust  earned by a utility has a significant bearing on the willingness of  customers to engage in smart meter and demand response programs.

Engagement for utilities starts with their own employees and there is evidence  that tapping into the energy and enthusiasm of employees and local  celebrities can have a big impact.  The SGCC study quote from the  Arizona Power Corporation (APS) demonstrates that public education can  be creative – maybe even fun!

“employees volunteer to be a  part of their (APS’s) educational clown troop; energy superhero team  performs at local events; Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash featured in  energy conservation campaign that APS credited with helping them achieve their highest rate of customers who tried to reduce their energy on  record

So what is the bottom line?  I would  conclude that if a community is mobilized, provided with engaging and  easily understood information, and understands the long-term benefits of reducing peak demand, significant changes in consumer electricity  consumption patterns can be achieved.
When you think about it we only  have a real problem with insufficient electricity supply for a few hours of the day on the hottest days and the coldest, darkest nights. If we  can successfully clip these demand peaks we can avoid having to build  additional firm generation capacity that is used only sporatically. And  as we move into an era when “Availability-of-Supply” pricing will  replace “Time-of-Use” pricing the ability to quickly change system load  in response to variable renewable energy sources like wind will become  increasingly important.
As Red Green would say, “We’re all in this together!”

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1 Comment »

  1. jayakumar said,

    September 9, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Amazing and i fully agree with the above. we did try similar at our end in India but deployment did not go through because of old meter vs new meter cost. Else we might be been another success case to refer. Our ide is to connect Social Network ( from IIT-B uhuroo) and RMS.
    jk@mullivaikal.in

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