Ten Things You Should Know About Smart Grid Customer Engagement, Part I

Published: Thu 04 Jul 2013
A blog entry by Sasha Bermann

Contributed by:

Sasha Bermann
Chief Dissemination Officer

Sasha Bermann's Blog

The term “customer engagement” is seemingly a ubiquitous buzz word in energy industry today. Research publications are addressing about it, and industry media are talking about it. But for many utilities and energy industry professionals, how to do it and how to do it right remain fuzzy. So what should we know about Smart Grid customer engagement exactly?
First, keep in mind that consumer behavior is a complex equation, factoring in for example, customers’ needs, lifestyle, use of technology and so on. Customer engagement involves proactively identifying needs, generating awareness, and developing entire customer experience. From VaasaETT’s international smart grid benchmarking research, a well-crafted consumer engagement strategy and plan will ensure an economically successful rollout of Smart Grid programs, while applying insights from behavioral science to customer engagement around energy has led to scalable, reliable and cost-effective energy efficiency. From an Irish smart meter/AMI pilot we analyzed, the program take up rate was 35%.  However, to achieve similar results during the actual rollout, it will be essential to create a more comprehensive plan to engage the population as a whole.  
1. Automation is Not Enough

Customers who participate in Automation without having formerly received education and feedback, are far less likely to save energy at other times (and may even use more energy at off peak times) since they rely more on (trust more in) automation than on their own behavior. Reduction at peak hours is 40% higher when participants are provided with feedback. Reductions at peak hours were 50% higher, and CPP/CPR reductions were 23% higher when participants were “educated”.
2. Consumer Acceptance is Key

Many Smart Grid or Smart Meter projects which began prior to 2006 have been characterized by a lower consumer oriented program level. These projects achieved only low level of program development in contrast to some of the more successful projects that have consistently included consumer involvement as an important part of their business case. One program in Canada has developed an end-to-end energy efficiency action plan. This strategic plan has been successfully communicated to the public over the course of 3 years.  Specific goals were set to bolster customer awareness and understanding. The success rate for the objectives was measured.  This represents an excellent way to keep track of the needs of the customers and incorporate their feedback and views of the program.
3. Segmenting Customer Needs, Benefits and Pre-dispositions
It should be noted that while the customer survey is extremely important, customers cannot be expected to necessarily know exactly what they want from Smart Grid and related services since their awareness and understanding of Smart Grid and related issues is extremely limited. They cannot easily conceptualize what they do not understand. For instance, if you ask a customer what they want from a Smart Meter, they will typically tell you that the only thing they want is an accurate (as opposed to estimated) meter read. This does not mean that customers only value that benefit from smart meters, but rather that it is the only benefit that makes sense within their experience of the role of smart meters. An equivalent is when mobile telephone customers were asked what they would value from mobile phones before cameras and apps were available on them, they did not state that they valued the prospect of telephones or apps, simply because such services were beyond their realms of comprehension at that point in time.
Note: VaasaETT’s International Smart Grid benchmarking research analyzed over 20 best practice programs in Europe, North America, South America, Australia and Asia.