Things are a little different down in Texas. The Lone Star State marches to the beat of its own drummer in many ways.
As the most deregulated electricity market in the U.S., retailers in Texas have to fight to win and keep customers. Two of the state’s largest retail electricity providers, Reliant Energy and TXU Energy, launched new smart thermostat programs this past summer to help customers manage their summer AC bills. As Jeff St. John noted at the time, “If it helps the state beat summer peak loads without sky-high power costs or brownouts, all the better.”
While Reliant Energy employed EcoFactor, TXU used Comverge’s platform for its iThermostat program. For both utilities, the focus on consumer-facing platforms has been a relative success.
TXU reported more than 100,000 downloads of its smartphone app to-date. About 60,000 of those came in the first year of the program (when only an iPhone app was available), with another 40,000 in the last five months of this year, which also had an Android offering.
TXU and Reliant are also seeing hundreds of thousands of customers using at least one of their products, whether a smartphone app, email or text bill alert or web portal, to better understand their usage.
The most popular tools include alerts (text or email) when bills get high and weekly email reports with energy use.
For utilities in other states, Texas is worth keeping an eye on in 2013 and beyond. The retailers can even show regulated, investor-owned utilities what kinds of programs that customers want.
If nothing else, many utilities that are deploying smart meters (or not) could take a page out of Texas retailers’ books when it comes to website design.
The websites are bright, clean, and most importantly, customer-focused. On Reliant's site, there are images of people on their smartphones, playing with their Nest thermostats. TXU shows off its iPhone app on its residential page and touts its iThermostat platform.
In 2011, we questioned how competitive Texas really was. As we head into 2013, we’re happy to say that competition is revealing different offerings, from smartphone apps to various smart thermostat programs that are far more awesome than your Grandma’s old load-control programs.
Of course, TXU and Reliant, while large, are just two of many retailers in Texas. We expect to see the proliferation of smartphone apps not only across Texas, but also across the U.S. in 2013.