Voice of Experience: Insights on Smart Grid Customer Engagement

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 spurred investments in smart grid technology and programs at utilities across the country. The Smart Grid Investment Grant program and Smart Grid Demonstration projects that it funded provided an unprecedented opportunity to learn from smart grid implementation.

Starting in 2011 the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (DOE OE), in partnership with electric utilities that received ARRA funding, convened a series of regional Smart Grid Peer-to-Peer Workshops. The workshops were designed to bring together utilities to engage in dialogues around the most compelling smart grid topics in the region with a focus on customer engagement. The meetings offered a platform for smart grid implementers, at all stages of project deployment, to share their experiences and learn from other utilities.

At the Smart Grid Peer-to-Peer Workshops, utilities of different sizes and operating structures shared the approaches and methods that work best for them and their communities, and the valuable lessons they learned along the way. Clearly, one size does not fit all and there is no specific prescription for customer engagement. There is, however, a large base of knowledge about smart grid implementation in utilities throughout the United States.

In addition, discussions at each workshop underscored the changing nature of the utility-customer relationship and the advantage for utilities to communicate the benefits of smart of grid technology. Building on the success of the regional Peer-to-Peer Workshops and in response to industry need, DOE OE convened a Smart Grid Customer Engagement Working Group in November 2012 to capture the knowledge that utilities have developed during the initial phase of smart grid technology deployment.

Why the Smart Grid Customer Engagement Guide?

The success of the smart grid will depend in part on consumers taking a more proactive role in managing their energy use. This document is the result of a 9-month effort to compile information on the successful approaches used by utilities to engage customers regarding smart grid technology deployments. Voices of Experience|Insights on Smart Grid Customer Engagement (the Guide) provides practical advice in the form of “industry insights” from utilities that have implemented smart grid projects to educate and engage their customers. It is not a road map, how-to guide, or even a handbook. It is simply an effort to capture the industry’s knowledge—and “voices of experience.”

Customer engagement within the electric power industry is an evolving, ongoing process that is just beginning to emerge. While this guide may lean towards AMI/smart meter customer engagement ( that is the technology on which participating utilities were most often focused), the principals and insights apply to a much broader perspective including engaging customers for dynamic pricing programs, demand response programs, distribution automation (e.g.; outage communication), and other technology such as home area network (HAN) devices.

Approach

In the fall of 2012, DOE issued an invitation to the electric power industry to participate in the Smart Grid Customer Engagement Working Group (Working Group). The Working Group held its first meeting in Washington, DC in November 2012 and included utilities, vendors, regulators, consumer advocates, and other industry stakeholders. Members of the working group divided into subcommittees that formed around general smart grid customer engagement topics such as Resource Planning, Consumer Advocacy, IT Planning, Stakeholder Engagement, Marketing, Regulatory Strategies, and Metrics. A leadership team consisting of utility professionals with experience in customer engagement directed the subcommittees and provided guidance to DOE on developing the process and content for the Guide.

Following the kickoff meeting, each subcommittee leader held a series of conference calls with their respective subcommittee to discuss best practices and gather recommendations for the Guide. The recommendations included advice, tactics, examples, methodologies, and a variety of other information that has been incorporated into the Guide. In addition, the leadership team met several times through conference calls and in-person meetings to discuss the development of the Guide.

A framework for the Smart Grid Customer Engagement Guide was distributed to the Working Group for comments in March 2013. The second in-person Working Group meeting was held in May 2013 to continue the development of the Guide in an open, transparent manner. Feedback from the meeting was incorporated into the working draft of the Guide in May 2013 and a series of conference calls commenced. Members of the Working Group were invited to attend in person or provide comments to the document on the calls or submit feedback in writing.

Comments, edits and feedback on the draft were reviewed and incorporated into the final document, which was released in July 2013 and made available to the industry here and other websites.  

Consumer Engagement Workshop

IEEE PES sponsored a Consumer Engagement Workshop on July 9, 2013 in Washington DC. Seventy-five industry experts attended the workshop where they discussed the challenges and exchanged proven best practices and innovations for smart grid education, energy literacy, and community involvement. Members of the Smart Grid Customer Engagement Working Group participated in the workshop. Download a video synopsis of the workshop here or the accompanying report, which includes 12 guiding principles to enable successful customer engagement.