Customer engagement is the perennial challenge for utilities – and surprisingly perhaps, it is more challenging for water utilities than for electric utilities.
This is the view of Piero Fraternali, Deputy Director of the Electronics, Information and Bioengineering department at the Politecnico di Milano, who led several work packages in the EU FP7 supported smartH2O project.
For one thing in Europe consumers don’t perceive that water has economic value in the same way they do for electricity and in many countries it is cheap. In addition, the smart water technology is less sophisticated and more error prone than the smart energy technology.
However, water scarcity is an issue in some countries and demand management.
Gamification of water
With these challenges a gamification approach was tested in smartH2O. This involved approximately 600 families over a 12-18-month period, with “all the things experienced in video games translated to water consumption,” including a leaderboard, reward system and a blackjack style card game named ‘Drop’ for children – which is currently being commercialised – with water information on the cards.
Notably the reward programme was both symbolic and real, also involving water saving devices that could be won.
Fraternali says that children are an essential market for gamification as they have the potential to introduce long term behavioural change in households.
“Ultimately engagement is about nudging behavioural change,” says Fraternali.
“Children enjoy card games and gaming and can be are a profound factor in instilling a habit.”
Fraternali says that much was learnt during the project, with a key result being a high level of water saving achieved – over 20% over two summers in Valencia – but with a low level of engagement, typical of gamification.
A key challenge, however, is the disaggregation of the water data and the need to “get it right” if personalised messaging is intended.
While data is still being collected to test long term behavioural change, the experiences – “but not the errors made” – are now being applied to the energy sector in two new projects. These are ‘Penny’ with a focus on individual behavioural change stimuli and ‘enCOMPASS’ with a focus on heterogeneous scenarios such as households, schools and public buildings.
Commenting that the project also led to learning on games design, Fraternali says: “The next game Funeregy is under development and coming soon!”