Regulatory mandates and smart grid technologies are creating an opportunity for utilities to adopt a new approach to customer service—an approach that balances a range of strategic and operational...
A land rush in the burgeoning home energy management market.
‘You can buy one of these approved products. Pick the one you want, and we’ll give you a rebate on your bill.’”
If a manufacturer’s product was in the pilot, it’s almost sure to be on the rollout short list.
The ecobee thermostat, which costs about $200 and started shipping in February, is built on smart-phone architecture that allows it to update software wirelessly and expand capabilities as smart-meter infrastructure comes online. It has a color screen and multiple radio interfaces that can connect to the smart meter via Zigbee or by a proprietary AMI protocol.
“No one knows what the right answer is in terms of what consumers ultimately will use,” Lombard says. “So it’s really important to have a flexible platform that you can upgrade, and that allows you to change the applications.”
Lombard says he doesn’t see online energy portals as competitors, but complementary products, and he’s optimistic that smart-meter rollouts will accelerate dramatically over the next few years. The company’s strategy assumes that as convergence occurs, every home will need a hub device, and a communication-rich thermostat will be ideally suited to the task.
“In the short term it’s going to be a constellation of solutions,” he says. “Our goal is to create an environment where the barrier to communication is very low, kind of like an iPhone model. There are thousands of iPhone applications, and consumers can choose the ones they want. It’s survival of the fittest, but you have this great consumer experience with a lot of choice and a lot of compelling applications. I’m not so sure we’re going to have a killer app in the smart grid world, but more a killer platform that enables a bunch of applications depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.”
eMeter is taking a hybridized approach. The company’s Energy Engage product is a web portal. But unlike Microsoft Hohm’s cloud model, Energy Engage is embedded in the utility’s own Web site.
Sam Klepper, head of eMeter’s consumer energy group, calls other portals passive experiences, in which customers must take the initiative to derive value. Klepper says the company designed its portal to actively engage consumers by e-mail or text message when costs go up.
“Your bill can double or triple toward the end of the month on a tiered-pricing program,” he says. “With Energy Engage, you get alerts when that happens. It not only gives visibility into usage, but also its relationship to cost and the environmental impact. It’s a fuller story.” The interface also allows users to obtain more detailed data, such as comparisons by neighborhood or home size, but it’s designed to be user friendly and to give consumers only as much information as they want.
“We found that our original look, which had many more charts and graphs, was intimidating to customers,” Klepper says. “So we pulled back, bubbled up the information in bite-sized pieces to this higher level, with the ability to click on a button and get information with what we call ‘progressive reveal.’”
Also, because the data is drawn from