“The face of the Smart Grid will be paper!”

Utility bill

Photo credit Tom Raftery

We had a briefing from a company called Opower the other day. We take lots of briefings but this one struck a different chord straight away when Ogi Kavazovic, Opower’s Sr. Director of Marketing and Strategy who was giving the briefing, said Opower is “one of the few new companies in the energy efficiency space, as distinct from the smart grid space”. A company claiming not to be in the smart grid space? How refreshing!

Opower set out, when set up three years ago to unlock the information in people’s electricity meters and came up with its first product, the Home Energy Report. This is a printed report sent to home-owners to motivate them to change their behaviour so that they reduce their energy consumption. The report is personalised, benchmarked against peers and contains targeted tips on how to reduce their consumption.

The Home Energy Report initially was rolled out to 35,000 homes but is now being delivered to over a million homes across the US (and later this year it is expected to go to up to 5 million homes). And the Home Energy Report is currently delivering savings of 2-3% per annum, year on year.

One of the interesting things about Opower is that they have been able to deliver on the notion of behaviour based energy efficiency.

Ogi made the point that people are just not interested in checking their energy information online (apart from a very few energy geeks). This leads us to an interesting point – in today’s Smart Grid ecosystem, the two primary mechanisms companies are hoping to rely on for customer engagement are the website and in-home devices. However, Ogi contends that this is flawed because people are not interested enough seek out this information.

One of Opower’s learnings from two years of doing this is that you have to push information to home owners which is why Opower went with the paper-based mail channel for delivery. This was completely counter-intuitive to me. I love digital information and shun paper-based communications. If I receive it in paper, I can’t click on it, I can’t drill down for more information but seemingly, I am in a minority!

Opower have done surveys on the recipients of their reports and found that close to 70% of the recipients have talked to their families about the reports i.e. not only have they read them and acted on them (the 2-3% reduction) but they have discussed them with their families!

Hence Ogi’s assertion that “the face of the Smart Grid will be paper” – it seems high tech meter’s primary communication interface with home-owners will be with the low tech medium that is paper, at least for the time being!