20 October 2009 - Aclara, part of the Utility Solutions Group of ESCO Technologies Inc.  today announced that six of the top ten electric and gas utility web sites, as well as the utility customer benchmarked as number one in the recently published E Source 2009 Review of North American Electric and Gas Company Web Sites, employ its ENERGYprism® web-enabled customer-care solutions. Additionally, 40 of the top 100 U.S. and Canadian utilities ranked in the E Source study have contracted to use Aclara applications. Avista Utilities, ranked number one in the benchmark survey, uses ENERGYprism modules to help customers analyze their utility bills and audit their energy usage. Spokane, WA-based Avista Utilities is an investor-owned utility with annual revenues of more than $1.3 billion, providing electric and natural gas service to approximately 481,000 customers within a 30,000-square-mile service territory.

Dana Anderson, Director of Service Development and Marketing for Avista Utilities, said that Aclara was a key partner in providing value-added capabilities to the utility’s customers through the web site. “We really felt the energy audit was important to educate our customers on ways to save energy and lower their bills,” said Anderson. “In the first quarter, we did a promotion that resulted in about 9,000 completed audits. We followed up on the customers who completed the audit and sent them information about specific energy efficiency program offers that would help them to reduce energy use.”

On-line, self-service and web based energy analysis functions such as Aclara’s are becoming more important to the success of utilities who wish to score well on the E Source web site benchmark study. The study evaluates 31 key capabilities recognized as important by the customer including the ability for the consumer to monitor energy usage, analyze their utility bills, select variable pricing options, and receive important service updates regarding outages and other activities.

“As more customers turn to their utility’s web site to report problems or pay bills, the focus of these web sites needs to be online self-service,” said Andrew Heath, Director of E Source Customer Satisfaction Services for E Source. “Surprisingly, we have found one of the hardest features to use on most utility web sites is simply making a payment.”

Although utilities have come a long way in the past few years in terms of offering self-service options, there is still work to do. This year, 56 of the utilities benchmarked offered E Source access to password-protected self-service options. “Self-service has become a big determinant as to how utilities ultimately rank,” said Heath.

Reviews done for the benchmark study are based on the responses of multiple reviewers visiting each web site. Reviewers are asked to assess their overall experience including their use of secure-access options.

E Source, which provides independent research as well as advisory and information services to utilities, major energy users, and other key players in the retail energy marketplace, performs the benchmark study to offer utility customers insight and guidance on what customers are looking for in websites.