Comcast expanded its Energy Rewards program this year with a new energy retail partner, Crius Energy.
Last year, Comcast piloted the concept with NRG retailer Energy Plus in parts of Pennsylvania. Customers who signed up received a $25 enrollment bonus and other incentives, such as three free months of HBO or Showtime, plus a free smart thermostat if they also sign up for Xfinity Home, Comcast's home automation service.
With Crius, the Energy Rewards program is similar but more far-reaching. Electricity and natural gas Comcast customers in Pennsylvania, Illinois and New Jersey can receive a bonus of $20 for signing up, along with fixed rates that are advertised as 5 percent below those of the incumbent utility. Comcast said it would expand to more states soon.
“Crius' proven track record delivering value to customers through partnerships with telecommunications providers was a key reason Comcast selected the company to help us quickly scale the Energy Rewards program,” a Comcast spokesperson told Greentech Media.
Crius serves more than 800,000 residential and commercial customers across its various brands, which include Viridian Energy, FairPoint Energy and Cincinnati Bell Energy.
While NRG and Comcast had a synergy in which both are looking for revenue streams outside of their traditional businesses, Crius has a longer track record of marrying telecom services with energy services, including with brands like Cincinnati Bell Energy, which launched in 2011.
The pilot with NRG ended in December, long before NRG's recent announcement that it was spinning off its clean energy business. NRG Home CEO Steve McBee has said a key focus in that arm of the business would be in California in the near term, which does not have energy choice for residential customers.
Many energy suppliers, including NRG's Energy Plus, offer rewards to customers in deregulated electricity markets, whether airline points or gift cards. While the convergence of top-tier cable providers and energy services has been on the horizon for years, it has been slow to dawn.
“We're looking to expand the footprint of the energy management product pretty significantly in the next few years,” Curtis Snyder, executive director of new business development, said during a recent webinar. Rather than leverage its thermostats directly into wholesale markets, “We're looking to partner with utilities to have this go beyond our Xfinity Home subscription,” he said.
Snyder said Comcast sees a vast potential to deploy thermostats to customers who are internet-only subscribers. Those thermostats could then be leveraged for utility energy efficiency or demand response programs, as Comcast is doing with Commonwealth Edison. Snyder said that Comcast also had two small bring-your-own-thermostat pilots in the Houston area over the past two summers.
Perks such as free HBO when customers switch energy suppliers represent just the tip of the iceberg in terms of bundling energy and telecom services. Comcast has been dabbling in energy management for years via its relationship with EcoFactor, but has been slow so far to integrate home and telecom services with energy on a deeper scale. Comcast said in the future it would offer other rewards and benefits such as “prepaid gift cards, free movie tickets and other exclusive bonuses.” Even though Comcast is now talking about beefed up energy management offerings, there was little talk beyond thermostats or getting into more serious energy packages that might include solar.
Activity from competitors may help push the envelope. Vivint, for example, has both a solar business and an internet offering it is piloting as part of its separate home security business. In the future, it is easy to conceive of more aggressive cross-selling as home energy and the smart home converge.
As customers increasingly turn to distributed generation solutions, including community solar, the sophistication of offerings from telecom and energy partners will grow. In the future, however, it likely won't be enough to offer free Showtime or gift cards; instead, people will be looking for free hardware, such as smart thermostats -- and meaningful energy choice and controls.