By Ty Benefiel, MeterGenius
We wear watches that analyze our heart rates and bracelets that study our sleep patterns. Data collection technology has come a long way in recent years, and our analysis of energy consumption is slowly but surely following suit.
With cryptic units of measurement, overwhelming spreadsheets and antiquated pricing, evaluating energy consumption is something that’s often overlooked by consumers. The smart meter, however, will make this analysis clearer, easier and more useful.
Traditional spinning meters and monthly electricity usage reports will eventually be replaced by sleek and wireless real-time devices, ultimately leading to a much more energy-efficient world.
Smart Meters: Building Steam
Smart meters continue to gain momentum as their benefits become more apparent. From a utility provider’s standpoint, this new technology removes the need for meter readers and truck rolls, allows power to be switched on and off remotely and greatly improves response times after power outages. And with a tamperproof reading system, smart meters cut down on theft and fraud risks by making it nearly impossible for consumers to steal electricity.
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / ra2studio
For homeowners, smart meters are successfully leading to a greater awareness of consumption habits, best practices and energy efficiency. Instead of providing consumers with 30-day consumption reports, people will be able to access 15- to 30-minute snapshots of their overall energy usage. They can zero in on specific times and dates to see exactly how much electricity they used, enabling them to pinpoint energy-saving opportunities.
Customer Portals Need Upgrades
Most electricity companies have created customer portals in an attempt to make information more accessible. Users can download Excel spreadsheets containing monthly data, but these datasets are far too broad and difficult for the average consumer to comprehend. They’ve been assembled according to electricity executives’ preferences and not through the eyes of an inexperienced energy consumer.
In order for customers to better understand their energy usage, they need to feel as though their utility company is helping them and not assigning them data-centric homework. No one has the time or desire to go through these electricity consumption graphs, and companies find the most success when they turn this information into easily digestible tools, tips, and programs.
The Future of Energy Data
Here are three great ways utility companies can make their customer-facing portals more user-friendly through the use of smart meters:
1. Implement time-of-use pricing programs and tools
These programs already exist at many utility companies, but they are poorly implemented and communicated. Customers need to know about peak-hour energy pricing, be provided with ample tools to track their usage and have an incentive to cut back during those times. For example, try creating a point system that can turn energy conservation into a game by having customers gain points when they use more electricity during low-demand times. Once smart meters are able to pick up on extreme amounts of energy usage in real time, clients should receive a text message that says, “You’re using a lot of energy right now; try these things to cut back.”
2. Go beyond graphs
Even the most detailed and helpful graphs will cause the average customer’s eyes to glaze over. A massive amount of raw data is a major perk of smart meters, but the true value is in how the data can be used to engage customers.
Present the data within a framework they can relate to. Directly show them how their consumption habits impact their bank accounts and lives as a whole. Show them what they can do to improve and how much money they can save.
3. Connect more than just the meter
We continuously interview our utility partners’ customers to better understand and improve the experiences we build. The No. 1 request is to include more device types and manufacturers in our list of compatible connected devices.
Once you engage your customers, you will create a demand for more control. Giving customers the ability to control their thermostats, water heaters, or lights not only increases their engagement with you, but it also increases your ability to implement successful demand response or time-of-use pricing programs. One portal, through which customers can control their devices and understand their impact on their overall energy bill, is exactly what customers want. There is a network effect to connected devices – the more devices that are connected and interoperable, the more likely customers are to want more devices to connect and control. Start with the smart meter and enable your customers to grow from there.
As you read this, some companies are already embracing smart meters by running small-scale pilots to test out their effectiveness. But the key here is for these companies to shift their mindsets away from the immediate cost and return on investment. Instead, they need to examine how long-term customer engagement through real-time data will pay dividends down the road.
The utility industry cannot afford to be constrained by its traditional models. The only viable option is to embrace this new technology and find ways to have it benefit both customers and long-term bottom lines.
Ty Benefiel is co-founder and CEO of MeterGenius, a free website and mobile app that helps residential users engage with and learn to lower their electricity usage. It provides electricity providers with new ways to increase customer satisfaction and retention, reduce overall electricity consumption and manage peak demand usage.