Today marked the third and final day of Distributech in historic San Antonio. The event provided 14 separate tracks that covered a wide-range of issues, including communications technologies, advanced metering, customer operations, communications technologies, smart grid operation solutions, demand response and energy efficiency. As a result, there was something for almost everyone in our industry.
I had the pleasure of catching a couple of informative presentations this morning on the topic of how to address potential consumer skepticism with regards to smart grid endeavors.
The first presentation was by Paige Layne, Communications Manager at Duke Energy. Layne described her utilities communications strategies to keep their smart meter deployment moving. For Duke Energy’s roll out of meters in Ohio the company identified four distinct primary audiences: affected customers, those who are interested in the technology, the utility industry, and community leaders. For each of these audiences the utility strived to provide them with information that is direct, specific, demonstrative, and focused on the benefits that would be delivered.
Duke Energy leveraged multiple communication channels, both existing and emerging, to reach their target audiences. And for each audience they developed a primary goal and the tactics to communicate that goal.
So far the utility has deployed 500,000, and plans to have the rollout complete in two years. Duke Energy appears to be benefitting from their communications strategy. Of all of the complaints that they have received from the 500,000 affected customers, less than five percent have been related to the smart meters installed.
The other presentation was a joint presentation by Floyd LeBlanc, Vice President of Corporate Communications at CenterPoint Energy, and Christopher Schein, Senior Director of Communications at Oncor Electric Delivery. The two power distribution companies discussed a consumer engagement program for smart meter education that they developed called the Biggest Energy Saver.
The companies wanted to develop vehicles that would create a viable path for consumers to better understand and embrace smart meter technologies, provide a compelling online community to better position smart meters and serve as a continuing resource, demonstrate the consumer benefits attainable by using information from advanced metering, jumpstart the market for products and services that enable consumers to benefit from smart meter technology, and lift utility industry trust.
With these goals in mind they created a three-part campaign. First, they developed a hosted online community dubbed the Biggest Energy Saver Community that engaged customers with features and benefits of using smart meter data, as well as related topics like energy management. They also created both a Facebook page and a Twitter account branded with the Biggest Energy Saver theme.
CenterPoint and Oncor also developed an application developer contest where they challenged entrants to build a web or mobile app to deliver usage data to help consumers manage energy. The distribution companies used five principal criteria to judge the entrants: the average rating of users, the number of consumers that used the app, the accessibility of the app across multiple platforms, the usability of the app to facilitate energy management, and the most innovative. The competition’s best overall winner, Smart Meter 500, received $50,000 in prize money from CenterPoint and Oncor.
The power distribution companies also created a consumer contest that challenged consumers to reduce their energy usage. Consumers were provided with data from smartmetertexas.com and the web and mobile apps previously mentioned. In addition, the first 85 registrants in each company’s market were provided with Tendril in‐home displays to monitor progress.
The companies selected sixteen finalists in each territory that were selected by the greatest percentage decrease in kWh energy use in August and September 2011 compared to those same months for 2010. CenterPoint and Oncor provided an impressive array of prizes, with the grand prize being a 2011 Chevy Volt.
The Biggest Energy Saver contest delivered impressive results. The grand prize winners in both the CenterPoint and Oncor markets were able to reduce their usage by 35%. Additionally, the top 10% saved an average of 26% in 2011 compared to 2010. That’s pretty impressive considering Texas had one of its hottest summers on record in 2011.
In closing, kudos to PennWell for a great event! I’m very much looking forward to Distributech 2013 in San Diego.