5 Ways Utilities Can Benefit From Energy Info Displays

Given the monumental challenges in modernizing electrical grids, the last thing utilities need now is bad press.  Nonetheless, controversy erupted in the UK last week when the Energy Retail Association (ERA) was accused of lobbying against a requirement to supply a cheap, £15 ($25) digital display along with smart meters.

ERA countered, rather weakly, that utilities weren’t against the displays, they just didn’t want to be forced into supplying customers with one type of unit. They argue that customers should have a choice in how they access their energy consumption data, be it on a smartphone or computer screen.

It’s a shame that the ERA is taking this stance, frankly. Energy information displays are a drop in the bucket compared to the massive and expensive work required to modernize power grids. Utilities on both sides of the pond should learn from this PR fiasco and concentrate on the opportunities that these dashboards represent. Here are a few:

1. Offer a default display: The choices that the ERA is so keen to offer are tough sells in the U.S., according to Clint Wheelock’s research on energy information displays. Dedicated units beat out other methods of obtaining energy consumption data among those surveyed. Bite the bullet and get in your customers’ good graces from the start.

2. Upsell: Katie at Earth2Tech alluded to this, and it’s a good idea. Give customers the option of a vanilla dashboard or a selection of higher-priced units with richer feature sets and capitalize on the margins.

3. Service and support: My utility, PSE&G, services water heaters and household appliances under a protection plan. Expanding coverage to smart meter displays gives customers peace of mind and provides utilities with additional revenue opportunities. Become the go-to source of everything smart meter related.

4. Own the “third screen”: In the coming years, smart meter displays can become the very definition of ubiquity. Utilities have a chance to roll out a communications platform that — unlike mobile phones with varying capabilities that leave some consumers (including the most energy price–sensitive) out in the cold — is stable and predictable. Just what utilities need to elicit consumer interaction and communicate alerts, special deals or offers from promotional partners.

5. Bask in the goodwill: Don’t underestimate the goodwill you can buy with something as basic as a dashboard.  Utilities desperately need to shed their monolithic image in this era of transparency, and this is a cheap and easy way to engage consumers.

Utilities aren’t the only ones that can benefit from these tips. Home energy information display startups can also reap the rewards by offering utilities the services and technologies that facilitate these new levels of consumer engagement. And in this increasingly crowded space, companies that help utilities leverage these opportunities are bound stand out.

Question of the week

Do you want your utility to supply a smart meter readout?