Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Handling communication strategy for DR programmes

Article: Interview with Jessica Stromback, director, VaasaETT Global Energy Think Tank Special

In this time of rising energy prices, initiatives are being taken to provide customers with additional information that could help them reduce electricity usage and potentially lower their bills.

Recently, a group of selected residential electricity consumers in the District of Columbia were chosen for a pilot programme, PowerCentsDC, described as the first in the electric utility industry to test the response of residential customers to three different innovative pricing options under one programme. Via this initiative, an advanced metering technology is being tested. Plus, the consumer are also checking out pricing options that could assist them in curbing their monthly bills by better controlling their power consumption.

Assessing such initiative, Jessica Stromback of VaasaETT Global Energy Think Tank told, "I look at these developments as very positive. Most pilot studies only test one or at most two, options at a time rather than several. This creates a situation where, if you want to learn for example, which type of feedback system or pricing scheme works best, you are forced to compare studies carried out at different times, within different population groups and usually using different selection criteria and methodology. To say the least, this can make accurate, reliable conclusions difficult to come by."

Stromback, who is scheduled to speak during Intelligent Demand Response for Electricity Summit 2009, to be held in Amsterdam on 28-29 January this year, recommends three things when it comes to involving consumers for DR programmes right from the pilot/ test phase for any project.

1. Know what consumers care about or what their "need drives" are - is it the environment? Financial savings? Social responsibility? etc.
2. Use those need drives to grab their imaginations.
3. Make your campaign part of a larger media package. Use everything you have, your own marketing department but also the general media to give your efforts more weight through publicity.

With reference to PowerCentsDC pilot, organisations involved in the project hope to get an insight into how consumers react to pricing information. They also want to learn whether consumers alter their usage habits, potentially resulting in lower energy costs, achieving energy efficiency gains and a reduction in the amount of kilowatts needed to supply the District of Columbia's demand, thereby benefiting all consumers.

It is quite critical for any government/ state authority and other organisations to get an insight into how consumers react to pricing information or any initiative.

Commenting on the same, Stromback said: "The very best way of course is to try them - and like the Canadians try a variety of possibilities so that you can build on previous knowledge and create real comparisons. You not only learn about how your customers’ would react but also what such measures would really require in reality from your utilities, regulators, grid operators…"

"If you don't have the budget for a pilot study - ask them. However, remember that most consumers know almost nothing about the industry and they may not understand the ramifications of their answers. For example, most customers that are asked if they would like to have "accurate billing" rather than the widely used estimated bills, say yes – until they are informed that their winter electricity bills may double. Therefore, the questionnaires must be carefully designed."

A third method, which should not be forgotten and is always an important first step is to review the excellent pilot studies that have already been done.

When it comes to gaining full media and political support for DR programmes, Stromback, "Not to be too cynical here, but in my experience, gaining full media support helps to gain political support. If a utility already has the public and media behind it and their initiative is seen to save consumers money, save energy and help the environment, they will have an easier time with the politicians."

As to gaining media support, Stromback said it is imperative to have a genuinely well-designed DR programme and marketing package, explaining how this programme will help meet consumer concerns about the environment, rising energy prices etc.

The utility needs to be ready for tough questions about what they themselves are getting out of all of this. She recommends that a communicative executive should be present to answer any query.

"If they want to generate media attention – they should get visual and get dramatic. For example, a utility may want to cut peak load for grid and security of supply reasons but they may have a customer base which is concerned about the environment. They can work out how much unnecessary CO2 is released generating peak for their customers and then they can have a campaign…like I believe they did in Australia, where they released so many black balloons for every ton of CO2. Or they could visually show how much water the CO2 will poison, how many fish that would kill on average, how many birds… These are genuine reasons for cutting peak, they are visual, they are concrete, and they are easy for the public to understand. So utilities should use them," said Stromback.

Finally, Stromback says it is important to remember that any campaign must empower people to change – not leave them feeling overwhelmed.

"There is a lot we can do and it really does help when we do it. In order to motivate behavioural change, a happy ending must always be possible," was the parting message from Stromback.

Intelligent Demand Response for Electricity Summit 2009

Jessica Stromback of VaasaETT Global Energy Think Tank is scheduled to speak during Intelligent Demand Response for Electricity Summit 2009, to be held in Amsterdam on 28-29 January.

For more information, click here:


Abbie Badcock ,
Smart Electric News,

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