Big Data Drives Big Behavior Change in Baltimore

You are getting verrryyy sleeeepyyy… you are turning down your thermostat to reduce peak demand…

No, it’s not hypnosis. And it won’t make you cluck like a chicken. But there are interesting things happening at the intersection between big data and human behavioral response.

An Arlington-based company, Opower, is em-powering utilities to actively change their customers’ energy consumption behaviors through individually-targeted direct email and text communication, tied to real-world incentive programs producing real-world results.

Opower’s Behavioral Demand Response (BDR) product combines serious analytics, driven by energy data from 57 million customers aggregated across 97 utilities, with a cloud-based platform designed to frictionlessly interact with utilities’ existing IT infrastructures. Opower uses behavioral science, in the form of “digital engagement,” to allow utilities to interact directly with customers via email and text. Utilities use the system to encourage customers to change their energy consumption habits, often through the use of financial incentives.

Using Opower’s BDR platform, Baltimore Gas & Electric has enrolled more than 1 million customer participants in its Smart Energy Rewards program since 2013, shaving 5 percent off its peak residential demand in the process. The company’s BDR messaging is highly-personalized: email and text messages that include data about each customer’s individual energy use, with rebate offers to incentivize peak demand reduction. Since it was introduced, the Smart Energy Rewards program has paid BG&E customers nearly $13 million in incentives.

Data-driven solutions like Opower’s BDR program are a key cog in widespread Smart Grid implementation because unless consumer behavior changes, the vision of an army of intelligent devices, such as electric vehicles and water heaters, powering down during peak load periods, and powering up during the energy-abundant wee hours, falls apart.

Utilities in EV-rich areas such as California are using Opower’s analytics to offer targeted customer plans that include access to deeply-discounted energy between midnight and 7 am, in exchange for higher daytime rates. The program has tangibly reduced consumption during the daytime peak by encouraging EV owners to refuel while most of the world is asleep.

BDR offers the kind of innovative, data-driven solution where everybody wins. Utilities can customize and target their energy efficiency programs to deliver the specific results desired; customers feel more engaged, in control and satisfied with their utility experience. The system is accessed via PC, smart phone and other personal portals, rather than requiring a standalone device.

“Data analytics only matter if you use them to yield outcomes,” says Baltimore Gas & Electric manager Heather Anderson. “Using high-level analytics, you can know the hours of peak electric demand. But by using detailed data, you can create a customer’s baseline to provide them with a personalized incentive to decrease their use during peak times. It’s been a very effective approach for us.”

Human behavior and data analytics – what uses do you see for this new approach?