BYOT and Behavioral Energy Efficiency

BYOT and Behavioral Energy Efficiency
26
Jan

New tech, same old story

New energy efficiency technologies are exciting, but tech can only work as well as its users allow. Even while the Internet of Things (IoT) keeps inching home automation toward true, integrated experience worthy of the moniker, “smart home,” issues with user behavior persist. If users aren’t educated and motivated to acquire, install, configure, and use new technology well, it cannot deliver the efficiency promise. Behavior must change to fit these advancements. Fortunately, there’s an app for that.

BYOT, behavior

Utilities can expect their customers to make more of these upgrades, from sophisticated systems in commercial buildings to the burgeoning bring-your-own-technology (BYOT, sometimes styled in the more utility-specific, “bring-your-own-thermostat”) trend. Utilities started experimenting with BYOT incentive programs. “Up to 20 million customers could be involved in these programs, representing a $3 billion market,” a recent study by Navigant found.

Many utilities now use, or have used, incentive programs encouraging customers to install more energy efficient appliances, HVAC, and LED or CF light bulbs, AEE notes in a blog post. The next level of efficiency gains, though, require users to do more than just screw in a light bulb. The BYOT phenomenon is just getting started, but thermostats and similar devices require a little more work to install and configure properly, in some cases, because they can learn user habits — even bad ones.

As it is, a 2011 article in the journal Building and Environment concluded that, “[T]he thermostats designed and promoted by energy conservation policies… are used as designed in only half of the homes in the U.S.”

In coming to this conclusion, the authors considered programmable thermostats and newer smart thermostats together. Technological advancements could make smart thermostats easier to use, devices like the Nest can already learn from user behaviors and so require less programming of users. However, users must have good habits in order to train a learning thermostat energy efficient behaviors.

The importance of user behavior is easy to see in managed residential and commercial buildings where managers track and compare actual energy efficiency gains to those predicted by models. It is not uncommon in these scenarios to find that actual usage is twice what the models predicted. Of course models have inherent limits. They can only do so well at anticipating what occupants’ behaviors will be, but the performance gap also underscores the importance of keeping users in the loop.

Everybody expects efficiency

Fortunately for everyone involved, both utilities and their customers, have incentives to make sure these new devices really help reduce consumption. A 2012 report, prepared for Southern California Edison found that, “Utilities… [have] a common interest in trying to influence their customers’ behavior.” As we and others have noted previously, utilities don’t feel pressure to increase power consumption. As the California Edison report notes, “face a growing pressure to help customers reduce overall energy consumption,” (quoting Ovum analyst Warren Wilson).

Behavioral solutions

By engaging and educating users, behavioral energy efficiency programs complement new equipment. A December article in EnergySmart states that, “Behavioral programs [are] some of the most cost-effective energy efficiency measures for energy consumers…, and consumers want to participate.”

Whoever brings the technology, behavioral programs can help customer make it work. In order to do that, they need to connect all the information for customers, notes Jamie Wimberly, CEO of DEFG EcoAlign in Intelligent Utility. “Behavioral approaches should be considered in a strategic context, tying together pieces of the DSM portfolio, leveraging real-time information from smart grid systems and then further tying into customer service and marketing/communications efforts.” DEFG EcoAlign’s interviews with utility managers reported behavioral programs were:

  • Cost effective in the first year
  • Easy to quantify
  • Able to scale quickly
  • Useful in meeting regulatory requirements
  • Conducive to customer satisfaction

The AEE post also mentioned two more important benefits utilities can realize from behavioral engagement programs. They can also:

  • “give [utilities] ways to reach elusive demographic groups,” and
  • “increase customer satisfaction through greater engagement.”

Technology, even learning technology, cannot reach its full efficiency potential without people who know how to use it. Utilities can help users reduce consumption by helping them understand the impact of their usage. By educational, behavioral customer engagement allows utilities to improve energy efficiency, as well as customer satisfaction and loyalty.

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