When the subject of utility pilots came up in a recent conversation with Ivo Steklac, chief sales and strategy officer at Tendril, he had a clear answer.
“Piloting is no longer necessary,” he said.
That’s not to say piloting still doesn’t happen all the time in the home energy management space. Tendril recently announced that Origin Energy was now rolling out its Energize platform to its more than 4 million customers -- after a successful pilot.
For Origin Energy, the plan was always to fully roll out Energize after a pilot phase. But for utilities that don’t have an endgame, Tendril says it is increasingly uninterested in working with them. “We know what our value proposition is,” said Steklac. “We’re not as inclined to just prove it out."
Instead, he said that he can show the company's work from more than 30 other utilities and third-party verifications. “You don’t need to keep testing it out.”
Pilot fatigue, sometimes referred to as “death by pilot,” is a common topic of discussion, especially for consumer-facing programs. “The time has come to stop the pilots,” Ahmad Faruqui, principal of The Brattle Group, said earlier this year when talking about dynamic pricing. “We’ve been doing pilots and little else for 30 years.”
The frustration is palpable. But things are slowly changing. For starters, companies like Tendril are no longer just talking to utilities. “We’re very excited it’s going through multiple approaches,” said Steklac, who said Tendril was in discussions with various other market participants, potentially telecoms or big-box stores. Lowe’s is already teamed up with AlertMe; EnergyHub is working with Earth Networks, which runs WeatherBug; EcoFactor has teamed up with Comcast.
That’s not to say utilities are no longer a target. But in the future, Steklac thinks that crowdsourcing is the way forward for utilities that know the business is changing. Earlier this year, Tendril worked with Dutch retail utility Essent to create something like an apps store for utility customers.
The utility was so impressed by a hackathon in Amsterdam that used Tendril’s APIs that it chose a handful of developers to create apps specifically for Essent and test them out on some households that chose to take part in the competition. Eventually, three winners will be rolled out to all of the utility’s customers.
The end of piloting is not about eliminating a testing period where utilities can gather data to inform a larger rollout, but rather is based on the argument that piloting should not be the end in and of itself. Although Essent is in a deregulated market, by offering different apps to customers, “It begins to show regulators that customers can choose,” said Steklac. Tendril has also opened its API for various hackathons stateside, including ones involved with the Green Button.
Another way that crowdsourcing might come to utilities is to enroll customers that already have smart thermostats into demand response programs. San Diego Gas & Electric, for instance, is offering an increased credit for Alarm.com and EnergyHub customers that want to join the Reduce Your Use program.
For utilities, it’s a low-cost way to roll out programs to additional customers at minimal cost. Technically, the partnership is still a pilot, and the utility will evaluate the results after a year, but unlike other pilots that go nowhere, SDG&E did not launch the project as a whim.
California is also the likely place where utilities will start to build something that looks like an apps store for utility customers. Currently, there are tons of hackathons and handfuls of apps, but there’s no one-stop-shopping for customers to access them. Most people probably have no idea what the Green Button even is. But if utilities don’t figure it out, someone else will -- no pilot required.