Utilities are — and have been for a long time — seeking better ways through which they can engage with their customers. According to Jeff Hamel, director of energy and housing partnerships at Google, 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, like during the very hot and humid days that have plagued the Northeast this past week. (ISO New England reported peak power prices multiple times over the past five days.) 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, said Hamel.
“There is a phrase where utilities want to become the ‘trusted energy advisor’ for their customers, he said, explaining that, for example Eversource customers in New England 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,” he said.
“One of the tools they are using to help manifest that is through these utility branded marketplaces,” said 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,” said Hamel.
Hamel added 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.
Electric Vehicle Advisory Services
New York’s ConEdison is one example that stands out, said Hamel. The utility is “actively promoting EV chargers and helping connect consumers with the benefits of electric vehicles,” he said.
Matthais Kurwig is the co-founder and CEO of Enervee. He agreed 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 said.
The platform gives customers instant rebates for lighting and smart thermostats and there is a solution for rooftop and community solar, said Kurwig.
The company has recently rolled out Enervee Cars with National Grid and ConEd.
Kurwig said that Enervee’s internal research shows that “only about 2 percent of in-market car shoppers actively consider an EV and yet 91 percent of shoppers want low-cost to operate and 61 percent 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 behavior.
Online marketplaces are not everywhere yet, Kurwig said his company is working with about 13 utilities right now, but it’s a clear trend. (For the record, 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.