Texas has a legacy of pioneering smart grid initiatives. Since 2007, the state has installed over 7 million smart meters, an achievement that helped it rank first in GridWise Alliance’s 2013 rankings -- tied with California, a state noted for its forward-thinking energy policy.
Texas was one of the first states to invest in an online portal for residents to use to access their energy data, regardless of their electric utility. Texas also built its smart grid to enable the home area network (HAN) to connect to smart meter data, laying the critical groundwork for energy management tools like smart thermostats and smart appliances.
A new program aimed at low-income Texans adds to this legacy of smart grid leadership. From the start, the Texas Public Utility Commission recognized that low-income residents stood to gain the most from smart meters. Better insight into home energy use translates to more opportunity to reduce energy and cut bills. Yet while low-income customers stand to benefit most from energy savings tools that connect to the smart meter, such as in-home energy monitors and smart thermostats, they are also least likely to be able to afford them.
As part of its statewide commitment to help low-income residents reduce energy bills -- through a program called LITE-UP Texas -- the Texas PUC made a unique choice. On top of cutting bills by up to 80 percent, the PUC also allocated $18.5 million toward forward-thinking energy-efficiency programs.
Because Texas is a deregulated state, energy providers typically aren’t incentivized to promote EE programs -- after all, the more energy they sell, the more money they make. This program turned that model on its head to motivate Texas utilities to promote persistent energy savings for those who need it most.
This funding enabled Texas retail electricity providers (REPs) to provide energy displays, training and education to low-income customers at no cost. Customers are eligible if they receive Medicaid or food stamps, or if their household income is at or below 125 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
In-home displays can link the smart meter to the HAN to present real-time energy data to residents, right on the kitchen table. This new technology was recognized early on by the Texas PUC as a critical tool for low-income residents. Thanks to a dynamic interface and helpful, immediate data, people can finally understand the link between their behavior and energy use -- and make real, lasting change.
These devices also bring important benefits to REPs. By providing intelligence about their customer base, HAN-connected displays can help electricity providers segment customers based on usage and target programs to the biggest energy users. For example, REPs can use in-home displays to more effectively implement demand response programs by targeting their heaviest-usage -- and most responsive -- customers.
Critically, these displays have been shown to engage customers more effectively than any other technology and can play a key role in helping REPs differentiate themselves in a fiercely competitive marketplace. In customer surveys of the CEIVA in-home display, for example, 88 percent of respondents reported liking the displays and 90 percent stayed in the program, reflecting high levels of customer satisfaction.
A customer survey found that a home display drove a 9x increase in customers’ understanding of energy use, while inspiring 83 percent of customers to change their behavior to reduce energy and water use. And 85 percent also reported an increase in awareness of hourly electricity costs.
This pioneering program is poised to make a major impact on the lives of low-income Texans. With insights about their energy use, customers know how to make ongoing behavior changes to reduce bills over the long haul.
The LITE-UP Texas program is an impressive new chapter in Texas’ smart grid leadership. Now it’s up to REPs to seize this unique opportunity to further their business while helping low-income Texans.
***Wannie Park is vice president of utility solutions at CEIVA Energy, a provider of Texas PUC “recommended” in-home displays for programs recently launched by Champion Energy and NEC Retail with LITE-UP Texas.