Want engagement with residential electrical customers? Make sure your energy management interface is something they’ll want to use.

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But, would you want that thing in your house?

In 1880, as the Arts and Crafts movement was beginning to take shape, William Morris made what would become his most iconic statement: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Over the next 40 years or so, that movement tried to bring back a sense of craftsmanship and design in a world that was seeing a shift to mass production. History can judge the effectiveness of the idea, but his sensibility was not lost even when it comes to the design of something as basic as a thermostat.

If you’re scratching your head a bit, that’s OK. The point I’m trying to make is that a company like Schneider Electric has to make the user interfaces and thermostats of its residential energy management systems both useful and beautiful if customers are going to accept them. And just to complicate things, we should add easy to use. Ryan Egly understands that the success or failure of a demand management or energy efficiency program can hinge on something as basic as how a customer takes to a new smart phone app and uses a thermostat.

He begins with the assumption that people find the concepts of energy management painful and confusing, and he’s probably hit the nail right on the head. It’s better to begin with such an assumption than to expect that people are dying to embrace such a behavioral change and will accept any solution offered. You can’t go wrong making it as simple and appealing as possible.

There is also an underlying assumption that individual customers don’t like the idea of a utility controlling their air conditioning. So Wiser has tried to make the discussion broader, dealing with the whole picture of home energy management using an interface that encourages participation. You ask yourself, “How hot is it going to be today?” For the answer, you call up the Wiser app on your phone. It’s going to be a scorcher and the utility wants to curtail demand from 2:30 until 6:30. They’re asking if you can shut down your air conditioning from 3:00 until 4:30, or longer if possible. You know that following the request will save you some money, and you also know that nobody is going to be home until 7:00, so you extend that shut-down period until 5:30 to save a few more bucks.

It’s easy to do that kind of thing because the interface is so simple, and it tells you exactly how much that extra hour is worth. Your utility appreciates your effort and tries to show its gratitude in a very tangible way. Making all that functionality transparent to a user requires a huge amount of design work under the covers. Helping sensors and thermostats communicate via ZigBee, openADR and Wi-Fi, talking to your home networks, reaching the cloud, and communicating with the utility takes network management, but the consumer doesn’t have to be aware of that sophistication. It just works, and it’s easy to use.

That kind of simplicity, beauty, and usefulness is all built into the Wiser products.

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