Smart Bills Lead To Even Smarter Consumers

By | November 5, 2012

This post provided by Evan Childs, SourceLink blog contributor. 

When it comes to electronics (the newest gadgets on the market), I definitely put myself in the laggard category for adoption. I’m usually never the first guy on my block to have the newest electronic gadgets. I’m the slow and steady guy who likes to think that I can do without many of these gadgets, as I’ve done for my entire life prior to owning one. So suffice it to say that I was a bit shocked to learn that I’m apparently one of the early adopters for a technology that helps me to understand my energy consumption and make smarter energy choices. I am the proud owner of a Nest®.

I first learned of Nest while attending a utility conference in Dallas, TX. It sounded pretty cool, but why would I need that “thing”? I’ve lived without it all these years, so my programmable thermostat is just fine (I thought to myself). Shortly after returning from that conference, my wife had mentioned that our utility bill seemed to be unnecessarily higher than the past. So we did a little investigation…

Our utility bill provides some useful charts and consumption history detail, so identifying the spike in usage was relatively easy. It was clear that the oppressive and seemingly never-ending heat wave of the summer of 2012 had taken its toll on our wallets, via our utility bill. I swear my AC ran non-stop for a week.

A quick review of our spiking electric usage confirmed that we were using more electricity than any prior month this year, and significantly more than the same period last year. So I bit the proverbial bullet and bought a Nest. If you’re not familiar with this little trinket, it’s a very intelligent thermostat to control your AC and heat. What makes this device simply amazing is the fact that it learns your behaviors. It’s a plug-and-go thermostat that literally helps you to make better energy choices. Nest (somehow) knows when you’re not home.

Nest somehow knows when I walk in the door, as it immediately kicks on my AC unit the split second I enter the house. (Still can’t figure out how it knows when I get home… a little creepy, but very awesome). Not to mention that I can control Nest from my iPad (Screenshot above) and have it prepare for my arrivals or vacations!

Utility companies are under increasing pressure from regulators to reduce grid demand for electricity, particularly in peak season (summer in the North East) when demand is at its highest. This becomes critical to many utility companies when excessive heat strikes a region. Demand must be regulated (or in some cases reduced) to avoid stressing the system and causing a blackout. Reducing the demand can happen by force (the utility has to temporarily shut down select customers for short period of time) or by a more preferred method all around – by the utility’s customers voluntarily reducing their demand by making slight adjustments to their usage behaviors.

Technology has made smarter energy consumption choices much easier than in the past. But beyond the technology that is now available, better billing statements are equally critical to this end result of smarter energy consumption and usage.

Had it not been for the usage history charts on my utility’s billing statements, I would have assumed that the rate increase for peak usage periods was the primary cause of the spike in my bill. Thus, from this consumer’s perspective, smarter bills lead to smarter consumers, which leads to smarter energy choices, which leads to a decrease on the demand for energy during peak energy consumption periods.

My wife and I now enjoy receiving our utility bill and watching as the usage charts decrease from month to month as compared to the same period last year. We especially enjoy watching our bill shrink. It has become somewhat of a game in our household. But for the record, it all started with an easy to read utility statement.

As utility companies evaluate the benefits of statement redesign, and making bills easier to read, I propose that they include reduction in demand as a likely outcome to a bill redesign. Had my bill been an old legacy-system generated bill with no usage charts or valuable consumption visuals, I never would have purchased my Nest and my usage behavior probably never would have changed either.

The technology is amazing. But just as amazing to me how important, effective and easy to understand a utility bill can be in driving customers to make smarter choices.

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