Summer is here, bringing the promise of more-extreme weather events and strain on the energy grid. However, record results from Oracle Utilities Opower Peak Management programs from the summer of 2021 show that consumers can be a powerful ally in maintaining grid reliability.
Opower engaged more than 3.3 million people in dozens of events across North America in 2021. Using behavioral science alone, Opower delivered 25 megawatts of demand reduction across clients—the equivalent of bringing 10 wind turbines online. In addition, Opower delivered hundreds more megawatts of demand reduction with peak time rebate programs.
These efforts not only shifted usage when energy prices surged and the threat of rolling blackouts loomed, but also helped customers reduce their energy bills and improve overall satisfaction with their utility.
“With some of the most ambitious decarbonization goals in the world, SMUD continually looks for new ways to engage customers in programs that help them save money and protect the planet,” said Richard Oberg, Manager, Program Delivery Advanced Energy Solutions, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). “In an area like Sacramento, which can experience significant heat waves in the summer, load flexibility is critical. SMUD customers can help balance demand during peak times through behavioral response. These easy-to-use tools emphasize education and gamification, which give customers insights into the important roles they have in our collective decarbonization efforts.”
Utilities around the U.S. are currently working on programs that can apply the same principles and customer action to better manage their response to extreme weather events this summer.
Customers rise to the energy saving challenge
Last summer, Opower Behavioral Demand Response programs were run in the California ISO, PJM Interconnection serving large parts of the East Coast, New York ISO, and The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) electricity markets. These programs were run by more utilities, engaged more customers, and delivered more peak demand reduction than in any other year in Opower’s history.
Customers received educational emails about impending seasonal changes and tips on how to save energy. Personalized, post-event feedback has proven to be critical to the success of behavioral demand response programs as evidenced by the fact that those communications, were opened at an average of 53% – which is 2.5X the industry average. And in the case of CPS Energy, 32% of survey respondents said their satisfaction with the energy provider increased because of the alerts.
“With extreme weather events increasing, reducing peak as part of demand flexibility initiatives is more important than ever. There is so much unrealized potential in residential demand response, but it has historically struggled to gain traction because of low enrollment rates,” said Matt O’Keefe, group vice president of Opower for Oracle Energy and Water. “Behavioral demand reduces this barrier by making it easy for customers to participate – driving energy awareness and giving people a sense of accomplishment in a highly cost-effective and scalable way.”
Guiding, and rewarding, energy-saving behavior
Opower Behavioral Demand Response solutions, some of which use incentives in addition to behavioral nudges, encourage utility customers to reduce their load on peak event days. They consist of pre-season communications that prepare people to be a part of the program, pre-event notifications that alert them of an impending event and ask them to reduce their energy use, and post-event communications that celebrate their performance.
These programs are also unique in that they seek to gamify the experience of shifting energy usage. As part of the post-event notifications, customers are rewarded for their contributions with badges they can share over social media, highlighting how much they saved.