The concept of using in-home displays to influence consumer behavior, as well provide consumption data, may go the same way as the pager, for those who remember them.
Pagers, much like in-home meter displays, offered a solution to a problem for which better technology already existed. In the case of the in-home display, this would be the smart phone.
Analysts predict that European smartphone adoption will exceed 60% by the end of 2013. This trend is also fueled by the fact that the Smartphone play is not just a consumer device play, but platform play being fought out by Apple, Microsoft and Google.
For a number of reasons the Smartphone offers a more efficient way of communicating data to consumers, with the aim of influencing change. The first of which is cost and sustainability, both to the utility and the consumer. As utilities are able to open up access to data, a Smartphone app is a much cheaper way of delivering the same information as an in-home display. The utility or customer does not have to pay for an expensive device which, if some reports are true, is used as a novelty for a short period but quickly loses its appeal.
In addition, depending on their information architecture, utilities can offer up public data which will encourage independent app developers to build solutions and monetize them much in the same way as the multitude of travel applications in London following the Transport For London (TFL) open data initiative. This can serve to create an App marketplace for energy conscious consumers and potentially become a differentiation point for the Utility.
An app also offers much more agility as it responds to new data received. Changes to the user interface (UI) may also need to be adjusted according to consumer feedback.
The biggest advantage is the ability to communicate directly with the consumer, alerting them of tariff incentives or cost savings. More interestingly it brings into play gamification opportunities which utilities in California, for example, are already experimenting with, such as neighborhood or community challenges e.g. within primary schools for a certain district.
Tangentially, the increase on Electric Vehicles (EV’s) will also be an incentive for this ability to communicate directly for two reasons, creating a win-win scenario. Firstly, the consumer will want to know the cheapest time to charge their EV. Secondly, the utility, from a demand-response point of view, will want to manage or control the times vehicles are charged. This is particularly true of regions like California which have particularly ambitious EV targets.
Alarm bells should be ringing at any company whose business plan relies on shipping large numbers of in-home displays either as bulk deals with utilities or directly to consumers. These companies need to review their business strategies and if they are not already doing so, use their existing relationships with utilities to offer App services and lock in data usage rights. Their industry knowledge gives them a head start and can make them ideal partners to many utilities to offer consumer engagement via Internet Connected Devices (ICD) and become players in the utility App Internet.