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Summer of Discontent

Smart-grid planners feel the heat.

Fortnightly Magazine - August 2010

and potentially a radically new approach to energy conservation, but doing it in an environment with extremely low customer engagement,” said Ogi Kavazovic, senior director of marketing and strategy with Opower. “Deploying something like that without having a meaningful customer relationship first is a fundamental problem.”

Opower has gained an impressive list of utility customers in the past year for its service, which uses interval-metering data to generate individually customized mailings to utility customers in support of efficiency programs. The keys to success, according to Kavazovic, include demonstrating tangible value to customers on an ongoing basis, and approaching communications with a clear understanding of what motivates people’s behavior.

“The financial value proposition, in most cases, isn’t enough to excite customers,” he said. “We’ve found other ways to get people’s attention and get them to take action.” Examples include using peer pressure— i.e., comparing the customer’s usage to that of neighbors—and also carefully wording messages to position the conservation opportunity as money lost rather than potential savings.

“A subtle change in wording can have a profound result,” Kavazovic said.

Subtlety, of course, has never been the industry’s strongest trait. But over time, we’ll learn how to sell the smart grid to customers across the ideological spectrum—from Joe Six-Pack to Jenny Granola.