Communications and Customer Care

Report details interest of consumers in online energy portal

A recent report from the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) said that research it conducted found that about half of consumers (49 percent) would definitely or probably use a platform that is “enabled by the new energy environment of connected technologies.”

SECC described the platform as an online energy resource that consumers can access from their computer, smartphone or tablet. The portal would combine a household’s energy usage data (current and historical), preference settings, real-time energy usage data, energy provider and third-party programs and offers and use this information to help consumers understand and manage their energy use.

“When we asked about specific products and services that might be delivered in this new environment, consumers were even more interested,” SECC noted. Over half were interested in an energy rewards program (52%), and almost half (46%) were interested in an energy manager that could help them manage day-to-day energy use in their homes. Less than one-quarter of consumers were disinterested in any of the tools SECC tested.

Since these tools and technologies can support high degrees of automation, SECC said it also explored consumer attitudes about using automated functions to make choices, whether through machine learning or preference setting.

“Interestingly, we found that consumers expect ‘learning’ capabilities so that offers can be filtered; however, products or services that act independently (even if preferences are set by the consumer) are preferred by only a small proportion of consumers (5-16%), depending upon the product or service offered. Full automation, while potentially useful and technologically possible, is still out there ahead of most consumers.”

The report — the 2019 State of the Consumer — digs into consumer attitudes and needs and offers steps utilities and energy service providers can take to more fully engage with their customers.

The report is an analysis of five 2018 research studies that provides an up-to-date look at major trends regarding the behaviors, attitudes and motivations of U.S. energy customers, according to SECC.

Small and medium business sectors

The residential and the small and medium business sectors want personalized information that will help them control their energy usage, a finding that offers utilities a way to connect with their customers, according to the report.

“Consumers have values beyond saving money including interest in new technology and environmental sustainability, and all consumers express an interest in ease of use and offers that can make their lives easier and more comfortable,” SECC said in the report released earlier this month.

Most low-income customers — defined as earning less than $25,000 a year — fall into SECC’s “status quo” category.

“Status quo consumers are the hardest to engage, and their perspective on energy can be summed up as ‘we’re okay, you can leave us alone,’” SECC said. Also, low-income consumers are likely to be older, not in the workforce and living alone, the non-profit organization said. 

Although there may be fewer opportunities to offer services to low-income customers, they are nearly as interested as other consumer groups in programs that help them manage their energy use, according to the report.

SECC said industry stakeholders, sometimes with community organization partners, can help low-income customers get over financial hurdles they may face in taking advantage of energy saving programs.

Energy-focused nonprofits, for example, can partner with local service providers for on-bill financing where the provider pays the up-front cost of the upgrade and the consumer pays back the costs over time, SECC said.

With roughly half of consumers using smart meters, data analytics can be used to design programs tailored to consumer needs, according to the report.

SECC explored with consumers three types of programs: replace and save; manage and save; and shift and save. In all three cases, consumers were most interested in how the programs could increase their understanding of their energy use and possible areas for saving money, according to the report.

“In a nutshell, consumers want tangible, actionable information to help them make decisions that affect their bottom line,” the report said.

SECC also looked at ways to motivate selectively engaged consumers who periodically use energy management technology and incentive programs.

Utilities and others that want to spur disengaged customers can begin by making it as easy as possible for them to take energy-related actions, according to SECC. Also, satisfied customers are more likely to take energy-related actions, the group said.

Also, utilities and energy service providers should try to communicate with their customers through additional channels such as a smartphone app, social media or text, according to the report.

Report highlights community engagement campaign by Colorado Springs Utilities

The report highlighted a community engagement campaign by public power utility Colorado Springs Utilities.

Amid an environment of local population growth and utility industry change, Colorado Springs Utilities sought to develop a comprehensive customer engagement campaign that would unite the city’s unique community — including both local businesses and residential customers — around the wise use of energy and water.

By the close of 2017, the program had achieved or exceeded all of the eight measurable objectives that Colorado Springs Utilities had set at outset of the program, the report noted. These included 6,171 customer pledges, the top 27 percent nationally in J.D. Power’s Communications ratings and 50,892 MWh in electric consumption savings.

Additional information about the report is available here.