By Hunter Albright, PhD, Tendril
Much has been said, written and thought about how to better engage energy consumers. The way of the energy future is to give individuals insight into and control of their energy use. Much of the focus has been on details surrounding how to engage people using data and multiple channel communications. I want to zoom out, however, and look broadly at the customer engagement journey and where energy is going to fit in home automation.
Examining how consumers have engaged with smart home features can provide knowledge about how they will engage with energy-related services that are beginning to come their way. Studying a consumer’s engagement patterns can help utilities, services providers and product companies personalize services, which is key to success in the new energy market.
Five primary motivations that drive consumers to adopt smart home services exist. They are:
1) Security-Smart home engagement originated with consumers seizing the opportunity to fulfill one of their family’s most basic needs–safety. Alarm.com piqued interest in home automation as early as 2011 with its Internet of Things (IoT) security system that let users control electronic locks and surveillance cameras, among other features, from their mobile phones.
2) Comfort-With safety squared away, consumers were ready to go beyond their most primal needs. They were ready to embrace products like the Nest thermostat that allowed them to automate their homes to ensure maximum comfort upon their arrival at the end of a long day.
3) Entertainment-Secure and comfortable, consumers welcomed bundled entertainment services. Early on, providers like Comcast grouped phone, Internet and cable, becoming consumers’ one-stop connection for all things communication and TV. Smart entertainment then evolved to streaming on sites like Netflix, and ultimately, to full connection through services such as Apple TV or devices like Chromecast. Consumers have eagerly engaged in each iteration of connected entertainment, always hungry for the next level of automation.
4) Appliances-Smart appliances are the next frontier in the smart home. Companies like Whirlpool are experimenting, but as Gigaom Reseach reported on Oct. 22, 2014, in the article “The connected washing machine is still a novelty, but Whirlpool is making plans for the connected home,” the appliance maker has yet to hit on the consumer value proposition of a connected washing machine or refrigerator. Chances are that in time, however, the technology will become commonplace. Consumers will turn on their washers and dryers from their phones. They’ll know from an app when their dishwashers are full and their refrigerators will tell them when the lettuce in the vegetable bin has seen its last day.
5) Energy-Engagement in smart security, comfort, entertainment and appliances leads consumers to a natural-even necessary-engagement with energy. While there are still kinks to be worked out with smart appliances, smart energy applications are ready for implementation, and consumers are more than ready to engage with them. Consumers already are accustomed to controlling many connected aspects of their homes from their smartphones or from the Web. Managing energy the same way is a natural leap. It’s an integrated leap as well, as home automation security systems and thermostats often incorporate temperature and lighting adjustment capabilities. Consumers can realize the benefits of these automations only if they can easily monitor the impact the devices have on their energy use and costs through their energy providers.
In addition, energy engagement has become more relevant as consumers’ interest in solar energy has skyrocketed. Solar will unlock much greater interest in and adoption of energy applications. It appeals to consumers both financially and emotionally. Financial benefits will drive some consumers to pursue solar. Others will be interested in their ability to have a direct impact on the environment. They will see installing solar panels as a sure way to affect positive change. In either case, energy applications’ higher profile and greater adoption rates will benefit consumers and participating companies.
Utilities and other smart home service companies are in a great position to engage consumers and entice them to adopt and use smart home energy services, including the integration of solar, because they already have relationships with consumers. These companies know their customers best, and with the right technology, they can better know their customers’ homes.
Hunter Albright is Tendril’s general manager of data services.