SRP recognized for excelling at customer service

Congratulations to Western customer Salt River ProjectRedirecting to a non-government site (SRP) for landing a spot on JD Power’s 2014 list of customer championsRedirecting to a non-government site.

J.D. Power selected the 2014 Customer Champions based on an independent and unbiased evaluation of customer feedback, opinions and perceptions gathered from J.D. Power studies conducted in the United States in 2013. The companies performed the highest among more than 600 evaluated brands across nine industries, based on the J.D. Power 5 Ps: People, Presentation, Price, Process and Product.

SRP’s accomplishment is even more impressive, given the industry’s current reputation for indifference—at best—to customer needs. The secret to the Arizona utility’s success, according to a story on the industry news site Intelligent UtilityRedirecting to a non-government site, is making a priority of providing value to the consumer.

In the interview, SRP Chief Communications Executive Gena Trimble explained that customer service was SRP’s culture, and pointed to a menu of large and small programs that illustrate her point. Programs such as a prepayment service, time-of-use rates and collaborating with other utilities on energy-saving concepts keep the focus on customer needs. Every day, SRP employees share both negative and positive stories from inside and outside the company and industry. These “customer service minutes” give everyone a better understanding of customer issues and challenges.

Other factors that are key to supporting a customer service culture include hiring and cultivating employees who share that value, doing research to find out what customers want and investing in technology that improves operations. SRP Associate General Manager Mike Lowe also advises really listening to customers—easy to suggest, but not so easy to implement. Listening may involve monitoring channels, taking in feedback and making the effort to ask and follow up. These are time-consuming steps that ultimately pay off in loyal customers who are more likely to work with their utility through changing times. Source: Intelligent Utility, 9/16/14

Around the web: The NEED Project

www.need.orgAroundTheWeb

Utilities would have an easier job if consumers were better educated about energy use. Teachers are always on the lookout for comprehensive science materials to use in the classroom. The NEED ProjectRedirecting to a non-government site bridges those interests with energy education curricula that can forge a strong partnership between utilities, students and teachers.

Far-reaching goals
The mission of the NEED Project is to promote an energy conscious and educated society by designing objective, multi-sided energy education programs. Energy companies, government agencies and organizations work with NEED to create timely and balanced curriculum materials that focus on easy-to-implement program modules and professional development opportunities for teachers. To deliver these programs, NEED builds networks of students, educators, business, government and community leaders.

Almost 35 years ago, the project began as National Energy Education Day, a one-day celebration of energy education. The fundamental principle of NEED programming is to encourage students to explore, experiment and engage, and encourage teachers to embrace student leadership in the classroom. NEED’s work in after-school programs, student clubs, scouting groups, and home school networks also continues to grow.

For teachers
Because energy affects every aspect of our lives, NEED curriculum resources are available for all classrooms and grade levels, from kindergarten to high school and beyond. Students may explore the physics and chemistry of energy, calculate savings from energy-efficiency measures, write and perform plays about energy or discuss the impact of energy use on history and society.

Educators will find the curriculum guides grouped by grade level—primary, elementary, intermediate and secondary—topic or subject. A blueprint for success provides an outline of a basic energy curriculum unit and the NEED Graphics Library offers high-resolution graphics for classroom presentations and handouts.

Supporting material includes curriculum correlations to all state science content standards and national common core standards. Several of the most popular curriculum guides are available in Spanish. A current catalog provides book and kit pricing.

For students
To encourage students to take a greater interest in energy use, the NEED Project offers games, activities, recognition and study guides. The resources were created in collaboration with several partners, including Energy Kids, a program of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and Energy QuestRedirecting to a non-government site, from the California Energy Commission.

Energy Infobooks cover basic scientific concepts like motion and light, energy history, alternative and conventional energy resources and energy conservation. Students at all levels can find ideas for science fair projects in guides developed with a grant from the National Network of Energy and Environmental Education Professionals. Projects range from simple experiments with ice melt and changing colors to advanced explorations of technologies like waste-to-energy and cryogenics.

Students participating in NEED's National Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement attend a national ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Students participating in NEED’s National Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement attend a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

For students who are inspired to take energy learning beyond the classroom, the NEED project holds an annual National Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement. The program combines academic competition with recognition to acknowledge everyone involved in NEED during the year. Students and teachers set goals and objectives, and keep a record of their activities that students then combine into presentations and submit online each April. Participants attend a national ceremony in Washington, D.C., in June.

Missing links
Overall, the NEED Project is a rich resource for utilities and schools looking for ways to increase awareness about the importance of energy to our communities and lives. Unfortunately, the website has some significant oversights, including failing to provide a link to the science fair planning guide. The games and activities page is also incomplete, offering only certificates for participating in the games but no instructions or materials for the games.

Visitors can contact the NEED Project to request these materials or report other missing resources. Some states also have active NEED programs that teachers can contact for more information.

Thermostats are emphasis for newest PLMA interest group

The Peak Load Management AllianceRedirecting to a non-government site (PLMA) has announced that Brian Doyle and Lee Hamilton of Xcel Energy are co-leading PLMA’s new Thermostat Interest Group.

The PLMA Thermostat Interest Group will examine the costs and benefits of all types of utility-sponsored programs that leverage thermostat technology to deliver demand response, energy efficiency or other system benefits. A group goal is to identify the resources and partners that best communicate the value of smart thermostats to utility programs, rather than to focus on a specific technology or solution.

The group intends to collect documentation from published and not-so-public sources such as utility thermostat pilot and program evaluations. These and other third-party resources covering technology evaluations, program design concepts, market assessments, savings potential and more will be selectively shared with members.

The group has already conducted an initial meeting with founding PLMA organization representatives. Based on a strong interest level, the group will host a half-day workshop on Nov. 3 prior to the 15th PLMA Fall Conference in Philadelphia.

PLMA Interest Group membership is restricted to representatives from PLMA member organizations, but any organization is welcome to join PLMA. Source: Peak Load Management Alliance, 9/15/14

Smart messaging inspires Glendale Water & Power customers to save energy

Talking to customers about controlling their energy use can make utilities feel like parents—you repeat yourself like a broken record and you suspect your audience is just rolling their eyes and tuning out your words of wisdom. Facing summer peaking season and historic drought, Glendale Water & PowerRedirecting to a non-government site (GWP) was determined to find fresh ways to engage its customers.

Fans cool people, not rooms. Please turn them off when you leave the room.

Participants in GWP’s customer engagement program see messages like this in an In-Home Energy display digital picture frame. The display also gives homeowners real-time energy use data to help them save energy and money. (Artwork by CEIVA Energy)

Partnering to reach goals
Home energy management supplier CEIVA EnergyRedirecting to a non-government site helped GWP develop a campaign that drew on communications techniques from none other than Disney Studios. Dean Schiller, who runs the company, is a former Disney executive. He recently shared several tips for successful story telling with Smart Grid News,Redirecting to a non-government site which included advice on being practical, topical, clever yet accessible, and relevant to consumers of all ages.

Those tips sound like a recipe for getting dialogue going with customers, which is what GWP had in mind when it formed the partnership with CEIVA Energy two years ago. Funding for the program came from grants GWP received from the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commissions to help fund the utility’s modernization programs.

Glendale Public Benefits Coordinator Atineh Haroutunian explained that the municipal utility had three goals for the program. “We wanted to increase our residential customers’ engagement and satisfaction, improve their awareness of energy and water use, and encourage conservation and shift use to off-peak hours,” she said.

Pilot program changes behavior
GWP launched the program in early 2013, deploying the platform in about 90 residences. The Homeview system collects data directly from the home’s digital meter, analyzes the information and converts it into compelling messages and visuals. The cloud service then dispatches these conservation messages to the homeowner on several platforms including a “glanceable” In Home Display in a digital picture frame.

The real-time energy-use data and conservation messages got the participants to take notice—and make changes. The information convinced one family that it was time to retire their energy-hog space heater. Another customer told Haroutunian that she placed the display near her children’s room to teach them about energy use in a concrete way.

GWP engaged an independent research company to evaluate the program. They found that 74 percent of customers recalled the conservation messages, and 88 percent of those who remembered the message liked it. Among program participants, awareness of hourly electricity costs grew by 85 percent after the deployment. After joining the pilot program, 83 percent of respondents said they changed their behavior to reduce energy and water use. Also, participants overwhelmingly reported that installing Homeview was easy, a critical but sometimes overlooked factor in program success.

Time to grow
Numbers like that spell success and persuaded GWP to expand its customer engagement program earlier this year. Using newsletters, direct mail and a little help from the local media,Redirecting to a non-government site GWP’s conservation team recruited 500 new customers to install the Homeview platform.

Conservation messages also remind customers that wasting water can cost as much as wasting electricity, (Artwork by CEIVA Energy)

Conservation messages also remind customers that wasting water can cost as much as wasting electricity, (Artwork by CEIVA Energy)

The utility worked with CEIVA Energy to craft conservation messages that align with its current priorities, such as saving water or managing air conditioning use. Throughout the day, customers see the messages as part of their picture rotation, along with information about how much energy they are using. GWP reinforces these messages by distributing them in social media and community outreach newsletters.

A new feature in Phase Two is the integration of a programmable thermostat with the Homeview display. “By tying specific heating and cooling behavior directly to energy use, we are giving customers one more tool to understand their habits and make changes that will reduce their energy costs even more,” Haroutunian said.

Benefits for all
The beauty of a successful customer program is that it is good for the utility that provides it, too. CEIVA Energy offers additional utility services that GWP can use to improve its operations and make future programs more effective. The Entryway smart meter integration software allows GWP to analyze home energy use, monitor home energy management devices and deliver residential demand response. Product licensing, implementation, integration, training and ongoing maintenance and service are part of the package, as well.

The most valuable outcome of the partnership, however, may be finding the “magic mix” of technology and message that inspires homeowners to be conscious of their energy use. Instead of feeling like it is scolding its customers about turning off the lights, Glendale Water and Power will now be having a conversation with informed partners. And that is something worth talking about.

ACEEE: Combined heat and power should be part of EPA clean power plan

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its plan in June for cutting carbon pollution from power plants by 2030, using four building blocks to achieve targeted reductions.

Each building block represents a category of measures that states can use to meet the first-ever federal regulation for reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) from existing power plants. The agency included energy efficiency, creating a path for states to reduce both greenhouse gases and consumer energy bills, but overlooked combined heat and power (CHP). The American Council for an Energy-Efficient EconomyRedirecting to a non-government site noted that the readily available energy resource could provide states with substantial energy savings.

Block-worthy strategy
For the EPA to include a policy measure as a building block in its proposal, the energy savings it provides should be cost-effective, adequately demonstrated and there should be lots of it. CHP meets these criteria by providing both energy and environmental advantages over separate heat and power systems. An ACEEE study found CHP represents around 18 Gigawatts of avoided capacity, and that installing the technology could save more than 68 million Megawatt-hours of energy by 2030. Those energy savings could cut CO2 emissions and offset the need for about 36 power plants.

In addition to offering energy and environmental benefits, CHP is a well-established resource, widely in use in industrial facilities, hospitals and universities to reduce operating costs and ensure reliability. According to the Department of Energy, it currently represents 8 percent of installed U.S. electric generating capacity and more than 12 percent of total electricity generation, and has the potential to achieve much more. A study from Oak Ridge National Laboratory found CHP could reach up to 20 percent of U.S. generating capacity by 2030. Including CHP as a strategy for meeting CO2 reduction goals will encourage greater investment in the efficient technologies that deliver environmental and economic benefits.

States make their move
Another advantage of treating CHP as an energy efficiency measure is that it can provide emissions reductions at a lower cost than other sources. A handful of states, including New York, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and others, are developing innovative approaches to increase deployment of CHP to gain its energy savings and emissions benefits. ACEEE is urging EPA to encourage states to use CHP and provide guidance to help states include energy savings from CHP in their compliance plans. Source: American Council for and Energy Efficient Economy, 9/4/2014 

Irrigation energy efficiency the topic of free webinar

The next Lunchtime Webinar from Clean Energy AmbassadorsRedirecting to a non-government site (CEA) will be of special interest to any utility with a significant irrigation load. Join CEA on Sept. 23 for Irrigation Energy Efficiency—Your Technical and Financing Plan to learn about measures that can be a tremendous source of water, energy and cost savings for agricultural customers and the utilities that serve them.

The webinar will offer the latest information on irrigation and livestock pump efficiency measures, including pump testing and improved system design. Presentations will cover examples from the successful irrigation efficiency program at Nebraska Public Power DistrictRedirecting to a non-government site.  A speaker from the Department of Agriculture will be on hand to offer advice on how REAP grants and loans can help achieve cost-saving improvements. You will also get details about free pump-testing resources available through Western for regional customers.

Utilities, local agencies, individual agriculture customers and those in related businesses will find this session useful.

CEA’s monthly Lunchtime Webinar series explores issues that affect consumer-owned power providers serving rural areas and small towns in the Great Plains and the West. The hour-long events generally take place on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 12 p.m. Central time. The focus is on cost-effective, easy-to-implement strategies to help utilities save money and build customer relationships. Discussions are lively and informal opportunities to share ideas with peers. Recordings of past webinars are available on the CEA website.

If you have any questions, please contact Emily Stark at 406-969-1040.

Free webinar – Surviving the coming utility revolution

Sept. 9, 2014
1 PM Mountain time

Suzanne Shelton of The Shelton Group energy consultants will be moderating a free webcast called Surviving the Coming Utility Revolution,Redirecting to a non-government site sponsored by Greenbiz.com, that will host energy management leaders from Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson and Wal-Mart. They’ll share their sustainability goals and how utilities can help them achieve those goals.

This webcast will show utilities how they can best serve and retain their largest commercial and industrial customers as they increasingly seek to generate their own energy and reduce their environmental footprint. If you work in strategic planning, energy efficiency or distributed generation program management, product development, or customer service/key accounts in an electric or gas utility, this webcast will give you excellent insight into how to position your utility and your product/service portfolio to be most appealing to your largest customers. Read more.Redirecting to a non-government site Source: The Shelton Group, 9/4/14

You can hear more of Suzanne Shelton’s insights into strategies for improving customer relationships at the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange.

Tension exists between good customer service, maintaining customer loyalty

The latest EcoPinion Consumer Survey from consulting firm DEFGRedirecting to a non-government site  points to a conflicted consumer landscape in terms of customer expectations. The Conflicted Consumer Landscape in the Utility Sector surveyed more 1,000 consumers to examine perceptions of customer service and the need for more options, including budget management tools, payment and pricing choices and new communications channels.

The findings indicate that the majority of customers feel that their utility is providing enough choices and the right amount of information. However, a subset of consumers strongly feel that they would choose a different energy provider if they could. There may be a disconnect between customer service and the overall customer experience or perception of the utility resulting in low or weak customer loyalty.

DEFG believes that utilities must address the majority of consumers as part of an overall customer strategy that results in deeper engagement, and specifically address the needs and concerns of the consumer subset to increase overall customer satisfaction. Read more.

You must register to download the report. Once you join DEFG’s mailing list, you will receive email updates on the company’s EcoPinion surveys, white papers and annual consumer choice scorecards.

DEFG, a management consulting firm specializing in energy, works with clients to increase residential and commercial customer engagement in a commodity marketplace.

Rethinking Kentucky bluegrass in the West

Water utilities in the drought-stricken West may see Kentucky bluegrass lawns as water hogs, but a fact sheet by Northern WaterRedirecting to a non-government site suggests otherwise.

Drought Tolerant Kentucky Bluegrass in Northeastern Colorado identifies seven varieties of Kentucky bluegrass that adapt well to the region’s semi-arid climate. Since 2005, the water distribution agency has been studying the drought tolerance and other water-use characteristics of 40 different strains of the popular landscaping grass. Surprisingly, Kentucky bluegrass stacks up well against the indigenous tall fescue for drought resistance, due to its shallow root structure and the ability to go dormant quickly.

The fact sheet also explains the appropriate steps for soil preparation to ensure that any type of grass thrives and uses water efficiently. Although the study was done for northeastern Colorado, much of the information will apply in many parts of Western’s territory. Municipalities and water utilities may want to share the report with new homeowners, real estate developers, landscape companies or grounds crews—anyone who might be getting ready to plant or reseed a lawn.

Northern Water works with the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation to deliver water from Colorado’s Western Slope to eight counties along the state’s Front Range.  The agency collects, distributes and monitors weather and water quality data, tracks stream flows and reservoir levels, and provides water resource planning and water conservation information.

‘Co-ops in the Classroom’ teaches kids about public power, energy use

Electricity is as much a part of life as reading, writing and arithmetic, so it makes sense to teach about it in school, something East River Electric Power CooperativeRedirecting to a non-government site does with “Co-ops in the Classroom.”Redirecting to a non-government site

East River Education and Outreach Specialist Jennifer Wolff (left) enlists the teacher to demonstrate electrical potential with a Van de Graff generator for the fifth-grade students at Groton Area School. East River member system Northern Electric Cooperative scheduled the presentation. (Photo by East River Electric Power Cooperative)

East River Education and Outreach Specialist Jennifer Wolff (left) enlists the teacher to demonstrate electrical potential with a Van de Graff generator for the fifth-grade students at Groton Area School. East River member system Northern Electric Cooperative scheduled the presentation. (Photo by East River Electric Power Cooperative)

Through its members, the generation and transmission co-op offers the program free to school districts in its service territory in eastern South Dakota and western Minnesota. The curriculum teaches students at every grade level about electrical safety, generation, energy efficiency and conservation. It also offers an opening to talk about cooperative business and the value of cooperation.

In the past year alone, Education and Outreach Specialist Jennifer Wolff has visited 79 schools and delivered 110 presentations. “A real testament to the program is how many teachers reach out and request to have us come back,” Wolff observed.

Flexible lessons
Wolff created “Co-ops in Classrooms” five years ago to supplement “The Story Behind the Switch,” a school program its wholesale power supplier, Basin Electric Power CooperativeRedirecting to a non-government site, provides to its members.The Basin program is tailored mainly to the fifth grade level, but “Co-ops in the Classroom” offers a more flexible curriculum that East River members can customize for any grade level.  

A Montrose Elementary student pedals hard to light up a display for Jennifer Wolff during a presentation arranged by Southeastern Electric Cooperative.  (Photo by East River Electric Power Cooperative)

A Montrose Elementary student pedals hard to light up a display for Jennifer Wolff during a presentation arranged by Southeastern Electric Cooperative. (Photo by East River Electric Power Cooperative)

In its first incarnation, “Co-ops in the Classroom” had four separate modules: safety, energy efficiency & conservation, generation and economics. Over time, the separate programs merged into one presentation, which Wolff varies depending on the audience and the school’s needs. “With hundreds of presentations under my belt, I usually have a pretty good understanding of what will or won’t work well for a particular audience,” said Wolff. “For example, with middle school students, I tend to present in more of a ‘game show’ type format. High school students do well with activities where they can be broken into smaller groups. Early elementary students require lots of ‘ooh and ah’ moments to hold their attention.”

Wolff has presented the program to all age groups, but it seems to be most popular with the fourth- and fifth-grade crowd. “This is my favorite age group to present to,” she admitted. “They are old enough to really understand the concepts, still easy to impress and eager to participate.”

Member systems take lead
The program was designed to be a relationship builder for its member systems, so Wolff likes to be accompanied by a co-op representative when she gives the presentations. The local representatives might talk a little bit about their job at the co-op and answer questions after the presentation. Linemen are particularly effective, she added, because they can show off safety equipment and tools, and have more “street cred” when talking about the dangers of electricity.

Requests for presentations that focus specifically on safety are common. Last year, FEM Electric AssociationRedirecting to a non-government site asked for a safety presentation aimed at high school students after some teenagers were involved in a couple of near-contact incidents while helping on a farm. FEM worked with Wolff to schedule the presentation at high schools throughout the system’s service territory.    

Each distribution cooperative works with local schools a little differently to schedule presentations. Wolff makes it easy by blocking off days in her calendar so the co-ops can offer the schools a choice of days. “Basin takes theirs to nine states so they require a longer lead time for scheduling,” Wolff pointed out.  “I do have periods that are scheduled quite tightly, but I can usually fit in a last-minute request for a presentation if one arises.”

The member systems also take the lead on promoting the program to their customers with a little help from marketing letters and flyers provided by East River. Coverage in local publications has helped to spread the word about “Co-ops in the Classroom.” In some cases, word of mouth is enough to stir up interest among teachers who are always happy to have a state content-approved science lesson.  

For community, for children
As valuable as the energy and science lessons are, each presentation makes a point of emphasizing safety. There is no way to guess what incidents might have been avoided by showing students how electricity moves or explaining the dangers, not just of power lines, but substations, pad-mount transformers and even household electric outlets. “If even one life has been saved by safety education, that’s a benefit you can’t quantify,” Wolff declared.

“Co-ops in Classrooms” is not about achieving measurable goals, after all.  “The program is another way for our distribution systems to show their support and commitment to their communities,” said Wolff. “Often, parents of students in the classes are members of the co-ops, and the schools may be members too. And, it is a great opportunity to educate the next generation of potential members and employees about cooperatives.”