Utilities

How Utilities Can Glean More Value from their Data


To become more effective at marketing, utilities would do well to follow the lead of Internet giants like Amazon.

Amazon does a great job at suggesting products you may want to buy based on your past purchases. With the abundance of data utilities now have at their disposal, they can be doing the same sort of data mining to come up with offers to help customers save energy – and money.

That was the upshot of a conversation I had with Jenny Roehm, Senior Manager, Utility Residential Solutions for Schneider Electric, who I spoke with at the recent TechAdvantage event in Orlando.

As utilities roll out more smart meters to customer homes, they see a dramatic increase in the amount of data available on each customer, Roehm says. Whereas once utilities only had overall energy use data, now they have data on use by time of day. Combine that with data on weather and location, along with any databases utilities can buy with additional customer information, and suddenly they’ve got a veritable treasure trove of information.

The trick is turning that information into something valuable for both the utility and the customer. That’s where utilities have the opportunity to create custom purchasing packages along the lines of what Amazon does, she says.

The idea is to give customized information for each customer and present it in a way that they can easily take action on it. “Instead of once a month you get a suggestion from your utility on something you can do like put in CFLs; if I’ve already done that, hearing that message again is meaningless and it’s a wasted opportunity,” Roehm says.

One of the ways Schneider Electric is enabling utilities to provide this customized information is through a digital platform that customers can view either online or in an app. The North American Wiser Efficiency Advisor,  an interactive platform, so if the utility suggests installing CFLs, the customer can indicate they’ve already done it and will never see that suggestion again.

Some utilities are also using their customer databases to provide monthly reports on energy use, showing their use compared to their most efficient neighbors, for example, and offering season-specific ways to save energy.

As utilities seek to tailor marketing programs to individual customers, Roehm acknowledged there is some confusion in the market around the regulations they need to meet. For example, it’s clear that a utility is required to offer programs to an entire class of customers, rather than cherry-picking certain ones.

“But there’s not a lot of clarity around whether they have to market to that entire customer class,” she said. “I don’t think they should be required to.” It makes little sense to market an air conditioner efficiency program to customers who don’t have air conditioners, for example. And with the type of data utilities now have at their disposal, they can certainly tell who is most likely to have air conditioners.


One Response
  1. w d

    I like the idea of Utilities helping to improve our energy performance. This goes beyond their traditional role of selling kwh.

    To me, two ideas the Utility could offer are: Benchmarking, and Best Practices.

    Benchmarking is how we are doing compared to houses of similar size and design in our area. As it turns out, ComEd DOES now provide such perspective.

    Best Practices are the means by which the best performers achieve their results. This, ComEd does not provide. They publish their own ideas on how to be more efficient but they do not inquire as to what projects customers have implemented to achieve those results.

    The Utility suggests things like building insulation and sealing (without detail) and CFL or LED lights. They recommend exchanging your old refrigerator. They will even volunteer to take control of your air conditioner in summer during peak demand. They then turn your a/c off and reduce the peak. Of course, you suffer discomfort while your a/c is off. Your usage is not reduced, merely rescheduled.

    We now use 68% less energy than a sample of 100 homes of our neighbors with similar size and design homes. If we implemented only the Utility list of ideas, we’d probably use 20-40% less instead of 68%. The point is, there are ideas not on their list. If they could inquire of us and other frugal customers, there would be a project list of ideas that could improve our collective energy efficiency nicely. Some of those improvements might come from Paul Desmond’s “data mining”. Perhaps the insights would allow us to turn off certain appliances or shift our usage to off-peak periods.

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