Electricity Companies

Wait, what? The power company wants to control my thermostat?

The thought of being on the receiving end of a demand response effort is scary to many customers. Wiser helps make it more attractive.

Implementing a demand response program involving residential customers means that somebody has to adjust the thermostat in an individual home or apartment. Usually that means turning up the thermostat controlling the air conditioning, or turning it off entirely for some period of time. Historically that somebody has been the homeowner, but in most areas, too few have been proactive enough to have a significant effect on demand. But new technologies allow the local utility to reach into the home to do it as well. Is it a shock to suggest that many homeowners find that a little scary?

While electric power has long been one of those things we take for granted, over recent years there are many more environmental concerns and consumers are beginning to realize the distribution grid is heavily stressed during peak demand times. If you’re a technology geek, maybe you’ve gone to your local big-box home center and purchased a programmable thermostat and tried to figure how to make it follow your living habits. Given the complexity of those typical DIY products, you’ve probably given up in frustration.

Schneider Electric’s Wiser solution is changing the overall approach to help utilities engage with customers deeply enough to create willing participants in efforts to manage demand. The idea that there has to be a direct connection from control center to customer suggests that a utility can reach through the meter into an individual residence. Jason Lien says that we need to look at this equation from the customer’s end and perhaps reverse that proposition making it customer to control center.

The ultimate objective for a utility would be to have engaged customers that are aware of how power is generated and consumed. Customers with that kind of awareness can be told when demand is spiking and they will be willing to make an effort to alleviate the situation of their own volition. A community of people like that would have efficient, reliable electrical supply and at the lowest cost.

In the interview, Lien talks about how Wiser helps create that kind of relationship by providing demand management and energy efficiency solutions that are engaging, informative, and easy to use. As a first step, utilities often simply give a smart thermostat to individual residential customers. Users download a simple but informative interface and soon discover that they can use it to control their consumption patterns proactively to save money in addition to working with the utility in peak demand situations. The value proposition is bi-directional, which is a completely different relationship between customer and utility.

But the answer is not entirely technical. Lien reminds utilities that they have to send the right message to customers, not just deliver a box. The message that goes with the free thermostat and smartphone app is critical, and that message has to be reinforced through the interface every time the user looks at it. Wiser helps make that message clear through the information on the thermostat and the mobile apps. Users understand their part in the relationship and how they can save money. That isn’t scary at all.


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