For a long time utilities have been seeking better ways to engage with their customers.
Jeff Hamel, director of energy and housing partnerships at Google, says that the Nest smart thermostat – which is part of the hardware product line that Google provides – is a good example of a simple way that utilities are partnering with their customers.
Google’s program is called Rush-hour Rewards, and it allows customers to agree to let their utility adjust their thermostat during times of peak energy demand. In exchange for allowing their utility to adjust their thermostat, customers get monetary rewards.
Online marketplaces are another example of how utilities are looking to help customers make good decisions about their energy use, says Hamel.
“There is a phrase where utilities want to become the ‘trusted energy advisor’ for their customers,” he adds, explaining that, for example, Eversource customers in New England in the US would look to their utility “for anything that they may be needing — from a smart thermostat to a new air conditioning unit all the way to bigger electric appliances like an electric vehicle”.
“One of the tools they are using to help manifest that is through these utility branded marketplaces,” says Hamel.
EFI, which stands for Energy Federation Inc, is one provider of an online marketplace, as is Simple Energy and new player Enervee. These companies are partnering with utilities to white label a marketplace that offers energy stats about all types of appliances that customers can use to compare one against another.
“There are a handful of these marketplace providers that are helping utilities become energy advisors and helping bring products and services to their customers and in many cases being able to facilitate the discount and the rebates that the programs and products are able to bring as well,” says Hamel.
He adds that these marketplaces help utilities “kill two birds with one stone” because they help the utility help their customers save energy and money while also helping the utility meet energy efficiency and/or electrification goals.
New York’s ConEdison is one example that stands out, says Hamel. The utility is “actively promoting EV chargers and helping connect consumers with the benefits of electric vehicles”.
Matthais Kurwig is the co-founder and chief executive of Enervee. He agrees that ConEd is a great example of a forward-thinking utility.
“They offer our platform to their customers and it features a Choice Engine for appliance shoppers scoring all current models by efficiency, retail prices, user reviews and all features on a daily basis,” he says.
The platform gives customers instant rebates for lighting and smart thermostats and there is a solution for rooftop and community solar, adds Kurwig.
The company has recently rolled out Enervee Cars with National Grid and ConEd. Kurwig says that Enervee’s internal research shows that “only about 2 per cent of in-market car shoppers actively consider an EV and yet 91 per cent of shoppers want low-cost to operate and 61 per cent want zero-emissions or ‘green’.
Enervee Cars gives all vehicles an ‘efficiency score’ and a ‘Clear Cost’ over five years showing the total cost to operate a vehicle based on the cost of gasoline, electricity cost, and anticipated driving and charging behaviour.
Online marketplaces are not everywhere yet, Kurwig says his company is working with about 13 utilities right now, but it’s a clear trend. (Eversource, mentioned above, doesn’t have an online marketplace yet.)
It certainly makes sense that utilities would want to get into the electric vehicle business. After all, more EVs on the road, means more people are buying electricity, and increased electricity sales is still helpful for many utilities’ bottom lines.