This post is one in a series of feature stories on trends shaping advanced energy markets in the U.S. and around the world, drawn from Advanced Energy Now 2017 Market Report, which was prepared for AEE by Navigant Research.
In a web and mobile application-crazed world, utilities and vendors of energy-related products are finding new ways to engage with customers for energy savings and efficiency. Customers today want more information, and they want this information at their fingertips. Mobile apps have become the latest means of fulfilling that customer desire, and leading utilities and software vendors have targeted their app development at helping customers manage their energy use.
The energy app market is still emerging, but early movers have deployed apps and other related services that provide consumption information and suggest steps that residential customers can take to be more efficient. Some of the apps piggyback on smart home technologies like connected thermostats. The growth of smart meters also plays an important role, generating granular data about consumption that can help customers become more efficient. The effectiveness of these apps varies, with some deployments seeing decreases in consumption of 6% to 8%, while others claim double-digit reductions.
The market for these applications has grown as customers have become increasingly aware of what data can do for them. The global market for Residential Home Energy Management Systems has grown nearly 1300% since 2011, up to $2.3 billion in 2016. There are several key drivers for broader energy app development and use:
- Data: Because smart meters generate data hourly or even more frequently, there is a growing amount of information that can be shared with customers. This granular data can be used to help customers better understand their usage, even predict their monthly bill. The flow of data also helps keep customers engaged, boosting satisfaction.
- Motivation: Apps provide motivation to help customers change their behavior. For example, a rewards program offered through an app can spur customers to reduce their usage as part of a utility’s energy efficiency efforts. Similar to mail- or web-based behavioral efficiency programs, some apps compare usage with neighbors or with similar-sized homes.
- Ease: Apps can make it easy for customers to operate their HVAC systems or take part in efficiency programs that save them money. Energy applications generally fall into four main categories:
- Billing: Apps allow customers to view and pay bills electronically, either online or through mobile devices. They also can be designed for sending alerts about potential high bills or prepayment for service.
- Thermostat control: The most prevalent smart home apps with web-connected thermostats that let customers set or adjust temperatures for heating or cooling systems. Other smart home apps, such as lighting and appliance control, do exist, but are not as common.
- Energy efficiency and demand response (DR): Apps can provide links to EE programs or alerts about DR events and let customers know how they can save energy and money.
- Customer engagement: Apps are used for communicating information about current or projected energy use, tips to reduce consumption and lower bills, and as a tool to collect feedback from customers to improve operations. Apps are useful for two-way communication with customers during outages, both for collecting data on how customers are experiencing the outage and for sending customers timely updates on restoration efforts.
Direct Energy, an energy retailer with about 5 million customers in the United States and Canada, partnered with Grid4C, a software vendor specializing in predictive analytics, to deploy an innovative set of applications to approximately 300,000 customers in Texas. Through these online apps, the energy retailer presents interval meter data all the way down to major appliances, sending alerts when there might be an issue, and offering predictive energy consumption information for the coming week. Deployed in the spring of 2015, early results have been encouraging, as company officials say they have received three times the customer feedback they were expecting and, overall, the response has been positive.
Startups are also getting involved in the energy app space. Eyedro, a software and electronics design company based in Ontario, Canada, offers an electricity monitor that provides real-time data via a web portal and mobile app called MyEyedro. Toronto-based Wattsly, a personalized “energy butler” mobile app, offers a tagging feature that allows users to tap a point on their energy usage Smart Graph and tag activities (e.g. laundry), which helps the app generate advice for further savings, as well as allowing homeowners to challenge themselves to be more efficient to capture further savings. People Power, based in Redwood City, California, created Fabrux & Influx, a cloud server and customizable app framework for weaving together incompatible platforms and protocols to make managing appliances easier – the energy equivalent of a universal remote.
Much of the discussion about the energy future for residential customers focuses on hardware like smart meters and smart thermostats as well as distributed energy resources like solar PV panels. But the next step will be using software and applications to bind these pieces together to create an efficient, easy to use, and automated home energy management system. With the coming app revolution, customers will have greater choice and control over their electricity usage and spending than ever before.
Learn more about energy efficiency and the rest of the advanced energy industry in Advanced Energy Now 2017 Market Report, available for download at the link below: