Last week’s blog discussed the importance of introductions or rollouts of disruptive technologies like smart meters and Home Energy Management System (HEMS) solutions that have exceptional visibility to residential customers.  A successful HEMS rollout is contingent upon a robust and expanded consumer engagement model.  Utilities (or their HEMS solution providers or Virtual Service Aggregators*) must revise their consumer engagement model to include significant outreach and education about the benefits of signing up as a HEMS user.  This education must include explanations of the use of In Home Displays (IHDs), descriptions of demand response programs, Time of Use (TOU) and/or real-time pricing structures, and even energy efficiency coaching.    This goes way beyond the traditional communications strategies and engagement models that most utilities use today.  In fact, the overall consumer engagement model must become a consumer enlightenment model.  

A consumer enlightenment model informs utility customers about the HEMS solution and the beneficial impacts of the HEMS solution to consumers, to utility bills and rates, to the environment, and to energy security.  A consumer enlightenment model delivers education along with aspirational messages that generate interest and excitement for the HEMS solution and the evolving Smart Grid.  It also places the utility customer front and center as an active participant in magnifying the positive impacts through increased energy efficiency behaviors as well as enrollment in utility programs to reduce, shift, or shape demand.

Here are four critical actions that utilities must take in successfully introducing HEMS solutions to their residential customers.

  1.  Recognize the long-term strategic value of the HEMS solution to the utility.  The best HEMS solutions have adhesive qualities that make customers more likely to “stick” with an energy services provider.  Why is that important?  If deregulation is coming to your area, the local incumbent utility may not be the only choice of energy services providers.  That makes the utility’s selection of the right HEMS solution so critically important to not only initial rollout success but to long-term market share objectives.  And what is the right HEMS solution?  Stay tuned to next week’s blog for that answer.
  2. Recognize the strategic nature of the HEMS rollout to the residential end-user.  This is not a time to discount the value of communications and messaging, as is often the case in engineering-oriented organizations like utilities.  This is not a business-as-usual project – this is a business-as-enlightened project.  The HEMS rollout needs support from the highest corporate levels and must include all the departments that interact with residential customers, so all field resources will deliver consistent messages as well as traditional customer contact points. 
  3. Define clear objectives for the consumer enlightenment model.  Make sure these objectives – whether they are based on HEMS adoption rate, DR program enrollment, or energy reductions – align with the overall corporate utility strategy.  If the priority is to keep rates as low as possible, then residential consumer participation in DR programs and reductions in energy use will help by eliminating the need to build expensive peaker plants or avoid additional power purchases. 
  4. Develop and deploy a HEMS communications strategy and project plan that identifies objectives, segmentation, messaging, and media.   Engage the internal departmental stakeholders in the process to ensure that their objectives and tactics align with the overall HEMS rollout strategy.  Plan for careful orchestration of messages and communication tactics, internal training about objectives and messages, and adjustments in staffing for customer care centers to handle increased customer communications.

Many utilities lack the in-house resources with sufficient time or experience to build the customer enlightenment model or manage the HEMS rollout.  Use consulting experts to assist in these strategic projects with in-depth experience in telecommunications (similar regulatory structures and technology disruptions), successful introductions of innovative software applications, knowledge of the Smart Grid sector, and demonstrated creativity in using traditional and social media channels.  

We’ve already seen that it is easy for consumers to build the wrong impressions of smart meters.  Let’s make sure that introductions of HEMS solutions – the most disruptive and visible technology that residential customers will see – are done right. 


*Virtual Service Aggregators or VSAs are defined in the Smart Grid Dictionary as a business model concept that proposes that an organization dispatch and control renewable sources of energy plus energy storage devices, and manage demand response and smart EV charging services.