Studying the impact of technology on SMECO's customer engagement
SMECO, which provides electricity to nearly 160,000 residential accounts in Maryland, is one of the nation’s largest member-owned electric cooperatives. Over the last decade, SMECO has frequently tested emerging technologies to help with energy conservation and grid reliability. Between 2018 and 2020, SMECO ran a pilot program to study the impact of smart home technologies on customer-member engagement and energy savings.
The goal: to explore how smart home devices, when combined with behavioral changes, can create new paths for customer-member engagement and aid SMECO in reaching their legislative goal of 2% in annual energy savings.
Working side by side with SMECO using our proprietary analytics platform, SightlineTM, we implemented the smart home pilot program, which was designed to assess the impact of smart home devices for SMECO members. The pilot had the following objectives:
- Identify the kWh savings potential of smart devices
- Understand the impacts of behavioral coaching with smart devices
- Find potential to leverage smart homes as a grid resource
- Learn how to engage customer-members beyond traditional communication channels, using channels such as voice
Our controlled study of 600 customer-members received a no-cost smart home kit that included LED bulbs, occupancy sensors, plug load controllers, and a central hub to link all these devices to their phone or computer.
Once enrollment closed, we began deploying a series of outreach methods to varying participation subgroups. These outreach mechanisms included general tips on adding devices, improving connections and schedules, and finding new automations that might work for members' homes. We also deployed customized recommendations based on user device data to push more targeted recommendations (i.e., "Justin, it looks like you left your basement light on for x number of hours. Consider switching that light to a timer.").
The pilot launched a smart voice assistant, SMECO Energy Assistant, through Amazon Alexa for a subgroup of participants. The voice skill provided users with energy tips, program recommendations, and quick fixes that might help reduce energy use.
Lastly, the My Energy Target (MET) campaign was launched for all participants to encourage them to use their smart home devices to reach a personalized energy reduction target in exchange for an incentive check.
SMECO’s smart home pilot program concluded in December 2020. An after-program survey revealed that 91% of respondents would want to continue participating in the pilot, and 98% of respondents planned to keep the smart devices installed in their homes. Program participants were likely to recommend the smart home program to a friend, and to continue purchasing smart devices to expand on their existing SMECO smart home kit.
In all data models, SMECO observed energy use reductions as a result of pilot participation. MET participants who met their personal target energy reduction goals saw a 7% reduction in their hourly energy load during peak days.
While this space continues to evolve rapidly, SMECO’s pilot provided an optimistic view of future potential. The utility has filed a revised 2021-2023 program to expand upon findings from the 2018-2020 program. The SMECO Energy Assistant voice skill continues to expand to Google and includes new functionality.