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For years, the electricity industry has been faced with numerous challenges, among them the failure to adequately engage, educate and understand consumers. Finding the right approach to tackle these issues is particularly critical for utilities that are pursuing advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) deployments.

Recently, we released "Smart Grid Customer Engagement Success Stories." This report spotlights the strategies and tactics employed by four energy utilities in the U.S. - CenterPoint Energy, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison - to successfully engage customers about the benefits of the smart grid, smart meters, demand response and other enabling technology and devices for home energy management.

Though the four utilities highlighted in the report are not the only utilities in the U.S. that are successfully engaging and educating customers during AMI deployments, each of them did meet key criteria we developed.

First, these utilities have deployed their smart meter programs across their service area; they are not just running pilot programs. Second, these utilities had evidence that strategic engagement through education and outreach programs engaged consumers in using the available smart grid technology. Finally, these utilities have documented authentic customer testimonials articulating the benefits of smart grid in customers' own voices.

Based on these utilities' experience, we have been able to highlight a set of seven successful customer engagement principles to serve as a resource for all industry stakeholders looking to hasten consumer awareness, acceptance and adoption of smart grid technologies and programs. The principles include the following:

  • Educate customers before deployment;
  • Anticipate and answer questions before customers ask them;
  • Facilitate community engagement;
  • Communicate ways to save via signing up for time-based prices and shifting usage off-peak;
  • Deploy a user-friendly and information-rich web portal;
  • Offer user-friendly smart grid-enabled technology, such as smart thermostats; and
  • Create authentic customer testimonials.

Across all four of the utilities, each proactively armed its customers with detailed, consumer-centric information that educated them before AMI deployments. In some cases, the utilities used strategic, planned community outreach programs to raise awareness with consumers. In others, an internal education program that trained employees to act as program representatives for the utility helped spread the word of smart meter deployments in their communities.

The successful utilities outlined in the report also communicated simple, practical means to customers on how best to shift their usage to off-peak hours. Many utilities found success in creating user-friendly, fun and informative web portals for customers to manage their energy use and provide related information. Others created programs that provided tangible awards to consumers who took charge of their energy use by shifting or shedding their peak load.

As the energy landscape transforms, utilities nationwide are learning they must take an active approach to integrating customer engagement and education within their consumer-facing smart grid residential programs in order to create high consumer satisfaction and acceptance of smart grid technologies during deployments. Consumers want to be engaged, empowered and provided with more educational tools that provide further explanation of the many benefits of a modernized grid and smart grid technology.

As consumers become more educated about smart grid and smart meters and have access to more information such as pricing and automation applications, their knowledge and favorability grows, and so does our nation's energy efficiency.

To read the full research, download the report HERE.


Patty Durand is executive director of the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, a nonprofit, consumer-focused organization that helps members adopt best practices in consumer engagement.

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Hybrid Energy Innovations 2015
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