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Summary:

While state and federal legislators are drafting rules to make sure consumers have prompt and secure access to their energy consumption data, consumers themselves are largely unaware of the tools available to manage their own energy. That’s according to a survey out from CEA.

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While state and federal legislators are drafting rules to make sure consumers have prompt and secure access to their energy consumption data, consumers themselves are largely unaware of the tools and technologies available to monitor and manage their own energy. That’s according to a survey out Thursday morning from the Consumer Electronics Association, which found 64 percent of consumers are unaware of electricity management programs, 75 percent of consumers know they aren’t enrolled in energy management programs, and 66 percent of consumers aren’t familiar with the smart grid.

In other words, it’s still an uphill battle for any company trying to build and sell energy-management websites, mobile apps, services and gadgets directly to consumers. Google’s and Microsoft’s home energy management tools have seemed to struggle to gain users, and last I heard, Google had 11,000 users for PowerMeter, which is far below the usage of most of its other web tools. Microsoft has admittedly been looking for a Plan B for its web energy tool Hohm. Other startups that have tried to tackle this market have gotten rid of higher end energy dashboard products, and other young startups have folded.

The energy management projects that are finding some success are programs that are more low tech and work through utilities, like OPower’s service. OPower creates more detailed energy bills that compare their usage to their neighborhood and give feedback through things like smiley/unhappy faces. The itemized bills, which can encourage or shame utility customers to reduce energy consumption, are reducing about 2 percent of electricity, and collectively are actually having a big impact. OPower’s service is also not opt-in; it’s opt-out, so via your utility you will receive an itemized bill unless you tell the utility you don’t want one.

At the same time, consumers say they are interested in reducing their energy via these types of dashboard tools and mobile apps, but in reality, we’ll see how interested they really are. The CEA report found 60 percent of respondents say they are concerned over the cost of their energy bill, and 55 percent say they are interested in participating in an energy management program from their utility. So do these new services just need more marketing?

The survey also found that consumers that actually are participating in utility energy management programs — an estimated 10.2 million out of 119 million households in the U.S. — are saving just a little bit more money on their electricity bills compared to consumers not yet participating in utility energy management programs. That would suggest that the current programs out there are not all that effective at convincing consumers to cut energy and save money.

At Connectivity Week last month, I participated in the Consumer Engagement day and moderated a panel to kick off the event, and there was a lot discussion around trying to find the killer app — or something truly interesting — to engage consumers with their energy management. But there were not a whole lot of solutions offered from the participants. Personally, I’m hoping Apple and Steve Jobs will help ‘em all out; the industry needs simple, good design and something actually interesting.

Image courtesy of Noah Sussman.

  1. Having been in the SMB along with a limited consumer energy management business for the past 4 years my experience has been that even with ROIs of less than a few months it is difficult to convince SMB users to adopt energy management technologies. The low take-up by consumers to energy management is not at all surpising. As in the case of SMB, consumers simply view electricity/nat gas as fixed expenses that they simply pay when the bill arrives. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it and if someone wants to do this for me and for free(utilities, government?) then I might be interested is the attitude. The only time we saw any real movement was when oil hit $147/bbl in 2008.

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  2. Good point on the relatively small savings experienced by customers participating in energy management programs through utilities. But I think your previous point about the collective savings produced by OPower is relevant to individual customers as well.

    The more that can be collectively saved now, the longer utilities can wait to build new generation and the smaller the new generation will need to be. Electricity, even on the coasts, is relatively inexpensive ($0.10 to run a 100-watt bulb for 10 hours in Kansas).

    The big bill increases come from major construction projects. So cash flow may be affected minimally by only a small amount today, but long the balance sheet is healthier because utility capital assets will be viable for much longer.

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  3. There are other companies like EarthAid.net that are rewarding users for lowering their energy, gas and water use. While they are an opt-in service I believe their growth is really starting to pick up.

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