Addictive energy saving apps: the future of energy management?

Cloud-based energy disaggregation software is hitting the gamification spot with consumers.
Published: Thu 09 Feb 2017

Smartphone penetration is escalating at a steady rate and industries across the board know that they have to engage with their customers via mobile applications in order to stay ahead.

Smartphone users spend a great deal of time on these apps and it would be a lost opportunity for any business to ignore this trend. Utilities are no exception. Mobile energy saving apps have the potential to help utility consumers stay on top of their energy consumption and an efficient mobile strategy can help utilities work more closely with their customers when it comes to reducing grid loads especially during peak hours.

London Hydro is experiencing this firsthand. The utility has just announced that it is the first utility in Ontario, Canada, to take on customer energy management applications and solutions that leverage Green Button data, including Bidgely HomeBeat web portal and mobile app.

A mere three months after deployment, residential customers are already enjoying over 2% energy savings, which is more than twice the industry average for digital communications.

The best part about this is that not only are they saving money on their energy bills, they also appear to be enjoying the app as if it were another regular gaming app. Apparently over 33% of the HomeBeat mobile app users return to the app multiple times during the week and this is increasing the utility's customer engagement levels significantly.

The solution gives customers itemised appliance usage, comparisons to other similar homes and personal insights and recommendations to help manage consumption.

This is not the first time that Bidgely, a California energy analytics company, has helped improve energy savings. Last year the company helped a rural Australian utility, United Energy, reduce load by 30% during peak events using the HomeBeat platform. While the platform's results in Australia proved it could reduce peak consumption during events by a significant amount, it also reduced daily power consumption.

A new era of customer engagement

Bidgely HomeBeat engages customers in energy management through various channels including a web portal, mobile app, notifications and email reports.

The platform basically turns demand management into an app-based game which is according to Bidgely CEO Abhay Gupta generating "consumer delight with their utility, going above and beyond customer satisfaction and energy savings." The app leverages behavioural patterns, analytics and monetary incentives, thereby encouraging a greater customer participation.  

Syed Mir, Vice President of Corporate Services and CIO, London Hydro and Chairman of the Green Button Alliance, says that the programme's success is evidence that "we are in a new era in consumer engagement.”

When compared to other behavioural programmes in Ontario (those that use traditional paper Home Energy Reports (HER) to compare usage to similar homes) the Homebeat solution provides a more efficient and fun way to engage the customer. According to Gupta, the solution helps "elevate the utility-consumer relationship to a level on par with the experience that consumers have with private sector service providers – one that is digital, personalized and highly relevant.”

Homebeat is providing important usage information through an app on the customer’s smart phone allowing the customer to make choices that impacts their electricity bill, says Nancy Hutton, APR Director, Public Relations & Corporate Communications. She told Engerati: “It takes a lot of the guess work out of determining their monthly electricity costs.  High usage alerts allow customers to make changes in their usage if desired rather than waiting for their bill to arrive to learn they had used more than they thought.”

“The beauty in the use of apps for utilities is the ease of pushing important information out to our customers and giving the customer the power to manage their usage and costs at a time that's convenient to them.  It no longer has to be during traditional office hours and calling into the call centre and they don't have to wait until their bill arrives to determine how much a new appliance, such as hot tub or swimming pool heater is adding to their bill. They they now have the ability to monitor themselves and make adjustments if they want to reduce their consumption.”

While this app is serving its purpose right now, customers’ needs will change and London Hydro recognises this. The utility has made it their business to continually investigate and develop new apps to provide their customers with as much information as possible on their usage, as well as other apps that will build more convenience into their daily routines that fit within their lifestyles, according to Hutton.  

Energy saving apps - the new market differentiator?

The personalisation and relevance of customer engagements have the potential to build or break a utility's business model. Apps should be used to deliver valuable information to the customer in a fun way so as to better engage with the consumer, reduce churn, improve operational efficiency and strengthen market competitiveness.

Ogi Kavazovic, SVP of Product Management & Strategy, Opower, pointed out in a European Utility Week interview that it is important to actually get the customer's attention. But, how? Utilities must show that they know what is happening as far as their customer journeys’ are concerned and this is done through personalised communication. This will establish credibility with customers, thereby improving engagement.

Of course, data should be relevant and of course, timing is everything. If the utility gets this right with the app, a greater customer intimacy will become the utility's key differentiator, according to Riccardo Vicari, VP, EMEA, Opower.

Going forward, utilities need to bear in mind that apps should also be designed to incorporate agility and flexibility in order to meet customers' changing needs. Taking all of the above into consideration, apps may well be the next biggest market differentiator in the energy retailer business. 

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