Washington, DC, U.S.A. --- (METERING.COM) --- July 12, 2013

Customer enrollment in time-based rate programs requires time and effort, and effective marketing materials and strategies – that is the message of a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy on findings from the Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) program.

The report focuses on 9 of the 99 SGIG supported projects that are conducting consumer behavior studies on the response to time-based rate programs implemented in conjunction with advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and customer systems such as in-home displays (IHDs) and programmable communicating thermostats (PCTs). These include eleven consumer behavior studies.

An initial analysis of enrollments shows a range of recruitment rates (defined as the number of recruited customers divided by the number of solicited customers), from 5% to 28% for opt-in offers and from 78% to 87% for opt-out offers. The differences often reflect the amount of time and effort that was devoted to market research and customer education, as well as the effectiveness of marketing materials and strategies.

It was also found that during the planning stages, most of the studies did not accurately predict recruitment rates for their solicitation efforts. Of the six opt-in solicitation efforts that underachieved their planned rates, five had an actual recruitment rate that was 7 to 22 percentage points lower than planned, while five out of the six opt-in solicitation efforts that overachieved had an actual recruitment rate that was no more than 4 percentage points higher than planned. The sixth was 14 percentage points higher than planned, almost double the planned rate.

Among the general findings, many of the utilities found that focus groups, surveys, and other research on customer preferences were vital components for test marketing terms and concepts for convincing customers to participate in solicitation efforts.

However, several of the utilities also discovered that focus groups alone were not sufficient to understand customer preferences and that it was important to validate focus group results with other test marketing and survey efforts and cover a variety of customer segments to build a comprehensive profile of attitudes and awareness.

Many utilities also commented on the importance of effective training for installation personnel and contractors who meet with customers in their homes and install devices such as IHDs and PCTs.

The analysis was conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), with the aim to inform evaluation of the efficacy of these types of demand side programs.

The utilities with the customer behavior studies analyzed are Detroit Edison, Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, Green Mountain Power, Lakeland Electric, Marblehead Municipal Lighting Department, Minnesota Power, NV Energy Nevada Power, NV Energy Sierra Pacific Power, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, Sacramento Municipal, and Vermont Electric Cooperative.