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 & Power (GWP) was determined to find fresh ways to engage its customers.
Partnering to reach goals
Home energy management supplier CEIVA Energy 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, 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, GWP’s conservation team recruited 500 new customers to install the Homeview platform.
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.