In our ever-connected world, customers are demanding more technology and information to give them understanding and control of their energy usage. In response to this demand, National Grid implemented a smart grid pilot, known as the Smart Energy Solutions Program which utilizes Itron’s OpenWay smart grid solution. This program gives 15,000 customers in Worcester, Mass. better insights into their energy usage and costs and utilizes home area network devices for demand response (DR). In a session this morning at IUW, Bill Jones, director of the Smart Energy Solutions Program at National Grid, discussed the utility’s experiences in implementing DR on the customer side of the meter, including a few lessons learned.

As part of the program, National Grid provided energy technology kits to customers to provide better insights into their electricity usage. The kits are comprised of tools, including smart thermostats, smart plugs, mobile and online energy use information as well as CEIVA’s digital photo frame displaying customers’ real-time energy use. Bill noted that customer use of the CEIVA frame was high since it also allows customers to upload personal photos into the frame, integrating it into their everyday lives.

The demand response technology allows customers access to usage data and enables variable pricing programs. With access to this data, customers actively participate in load reduction and conservation programs, while utilities employ control solutions to avoid demand events. National Grid took advantage of this option and has implemented Conservation and Peak Event days, where National Grid – with permission – adjusts customers’ energy usage down to maximize energy savings.

To ensure success and differentiate the program, National Grid made proactive customer and community engagement and education a key component. They actively reached out to consumers through multiple channels, including direct mail, email and social media; participated in local events to raise awareness and created an energy ambassadors program. In the presentation, Bill stated that interestingly, they noticed significant program enrollment spikes after direct mailers were sent to customers. National Grid also created a Sustainability Hub, located within the smart grid pilot area, which connects customers to an interactive education platform about energy efficiency and emerging technologies. Since its opening, the hub has hosted more than 3,000 visitors.

Throughout the implementation process, National Grid found that while communicating with customers, it is important to emphasize the benefits and value the program will bring to them as well as provide basic education around the energy market.

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