Designing an Engagement Strategy for SMBs

by Chris Rovillos, UX Designer

Over the years, our utility clients have shared with us the complex challenge of engaging small to midsize businesses (SMB). Accounting for 20% of the nation’s electricity usage but only about 3% of energy efficiency spending, there is a challenging gap to fill. In a well-known Accenture report, 9 out of 10 SMBs say they want more personalized service from their utilities but just 35% say they’re getting it. Engaging SMBs is hard – they’re just too small for utilities to have dedicated account managers. But they’re too big and unique for the type of mass-market programs that serve residential customers.

So we set off to address this challenge. But we had to get it right…

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
—Steve Jobs

User Experience Matters

At EnergySavvy, the customer experience matters. Our online audit for homeowners, Optix Engage Residential, features some of the highest completion rates in the industry—over 90%. One of the key reasons for these high levels of completion is our focus on great “UX,” or User Experience. The Engage survey doesn’t ask unneeded questions or force homeowners to fill out complex forms. Instead, it features bright, colorful icons with simple, easy-to-understand questions.

When we embarked on designing and building Optix Engage for Business, we knew that we had to continue this focus on great UX, while at the same time addressing some of the tough challenges that make SMBs incredibly difficult to engage from a utility’s point-of-view. Over the past couple of months, we’ve talked with owners, operators and managers at more than 20 SMBs across the country from Seattle to New York, California to Oklahoma , asking them:

  • “How do you feel about your business’s current energy usage?”
  • “What currently motivates you to save energy?”
  • “What would make you want to take an online energy audit for your business?”

So, what were our top three takeaways about small to midsize businesses?

1. They’re busy and have little spare time to think about saving energy

Almost all the people at the SMBs we talked with had one thing in common: they’re extremely busy. In the SMB world, owners and operators don’t have the luxury of being able to delegate tasks to other employees in specialized positions: an SMB operator is often the CEO, CFO, and the operations manager.

Not only do SMB owners and operators have a large typical workload; they often are interrupted constantly whether in front of their desk or on on the move via their smartphones and have to respond to endless amounts of “fires” that come up.

One notable example of this was our experience talking with the owner of an auto body repair shop in Long Island, New York. The owner was interrupted more than eight times by other employees during our hour-long interview: from auto insurance people calling in to verify a claim to personnel management issues.

What does this mean? SMBs have little to no time to think about typical utility programs. Many of the businesses we talked with said that most of the mail they receive immediately is thrown away; there are more important things to do.

2. They value saving money, but are wary of offers that seem “too good to be true”

Saving money is high on the list of priorities for SMBs; quite a few of the ones we talked with remarked that they constantly were on the edge of cash-flow issues with maxed out credit lines. When asked about the payback period for capital investments, such as in equipment upgrades or retrofits as part of energy efficiency programs, the majority of SMBs said that a two-year payback period would be the point at which they would consider participating.

One interesting thing that came up was that many of the SMBs we talked with said that they had heard of opportunities to save money from their utility, but they lumped them in with offers about saving money from their phone company. The word “scam” came up a lot when talking to SMBs about these offers.

Somebody came into the store and we thought it was a scam…You don’t want to trust anybody that is just going to walk and do stuff with your business.
—Small business owner

The small business owner recalled a contractor coming in to tell her about a utility’s energy efficiency program.

3. They’re influenced by their neighbors

SMBs don’t necessarily view neighboring businesses (even those in the same industry) as competition. Neighboring businesses can often serve as a vital source of information regarding ideas for efficiency improvements.

For example, an operations manager at a Seattle distillery talked about how he would read tips on which equipment to buy from a web forum frequented by other distillery operators.

How this influenced our product design

We didn’t let the knowledge that we gleaned from SMBs just sit around, though. In a future blog post in our UX series, I’ll talk about how this user research inspired some of the key elements of the design of Engage for Business.

Interested in learning more?

Read more about Optix Engage for Business.

Request a demo.

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About Chris Rovillos

Chris-Rovillos

A Washington State native, Chris joined EnergySavvy as the company’s second UX designer. He earned a BS in both computer science and human centered design and engineering from the University of Washington. Chris loves music, especially here in his Emerald City hometown.

A New Way to Engage 90% of American Businesses About Energy Management

With deployments at National Grid Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and four other investor-owned utilities launching soon, Optix Engage™ for Business is a digital engagement solution that effectively addresses a hard to reach, but critical customer segment.

E4B-placeit-man-with-iPad-blogSmall and midsize businesses account for more than 90% of American companies, consume about 20% of the nation’s energy, but attract less than 4% of utility energy efficiency spending nationwide according to E Source. And a recent Accenture study showed that while 9 out of 10 businesses want more tailored products and services from their utility, just 35% say they’re getting it.

Why? Small and midsize businesses have often been challenging for utilities to serve: too numerous for dedicated account managers but too unique for standard mass-market outreach.

EnergySavvy announces Optix Engage for Business, a digital engagement solution that connects small and midsize businesses with the right utility customer programs and offerings.

EnergySavvy has worked with hundreds of businesses in an effort to build a solution that addresses their specific needs. Engage for Business supports more than 2,300 business types with a tailored experience. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, National Grid is supplementing its award-winning small business programs with Engage for Business, achieving early success. About 60% of business customers who start the audit complete it, and 36% convert to utility program leads.

National Grid has made significant commitments to help our customers save money and energy. Working with EnergySavvy enables us to further enhance our outreach and engagement with New England’s small and midsize businesses. The solution is easy, intuitive, and directs our business customers to a personalized set of money-saving opportunities based on their unique business type and premise.
-Ezra McCarthy, Lead Analyst, C&I EE Program Strategy at National Grid U.S.

Engage for Business is seamlessly integrated into EnergySavvy’s Optix Platform, enabling utilities to benefit from the full suite of engagement, program automation and continuous savings measurement solutions.

“We’ve figured out over the last five years how to make home energy audits work for everyday people. This is all about making it easy for small business owners,” said Aaron Goldfeder, CEO of EnergySavvy. “Our passion is to deliver great customer experiences, drive action that improves the utility-customer relationship, and unlock data-driven insights to enable the utility of the future.”

A New Law Measuring Savings at the Meter

 Why California’s New Efficiency Law Is So Important

By: Jake Oster, Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs

CaliforniaLast month the California legislature adjourned, but not before passing a handful of important energy efficiency bills. Among the pile of bills sent to the governor, Assembly Bill 802 passed largely unnoticed. While AB 802 failed to garner much attention, it’s a truly important piece of legislation for those of us on the front lines of energy efficiency measurement.

AB 802 requires the California Public Utility Commission to update the rules for the measurement of energy efficiency so that measurement is based on “normalized metered energy consumption.” At EnergySavvy, we call this “metered savings” and it means measuring what happens at the meter as a result of an energy-efficiency upgrade performed on a home, building or other facility.

Measuring savings in this way involves looking at weather-normalized energy consumption before and after an energy-efficiency upgrade and accounting for the difference between consumption from pre-usage to post-usage. Measuring at the meter, while making adjustments to account for outliers, is important, because it’s a true accounting of how energy efficiency impacts the grid and provides value for ratepayers.

Across the industry, we’re seeing a general shift toward the use of meter data for measurement. Utilities are recognizing that measuring savings at the meter allows many programs to remain cost-effective, and regulators want an accurate accounting of energy efficiency measurement, instead of deemed savings. (Deemed savings are a set of standardized savings values for commonly used energy-efficiency measures that are developed and maintained by state or regional bodies.)

And while in many cases, measuring energy savings at the meter occurs during the course of the evaluation process, it’s groundbreaking to see it codified in statute as a policy mandate for a state. California has a history of leadership in energy efficiency with more than three decades of energy conservation programs, and California is once again leading a change that many states are likely to echo.

As with any policy change, the details will matter. AB 802 requires the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to develop the new measurement standards by September 2016. The CPUC will have to address several issues through the development of the new rules, such as how net savings are measured, how attribution is addressed for complex multi-measure programs and how to account for the persistence of savings. These are all important details that will need to be hashed out by the the CPUC and stakeholders, but starting from a place of measuring savings at the meter is likely to lead to better measurement practices for California’s energy-efficiency programs.

As California is leading the way with new policy, the industry is meeting the challenge with new savings measurement software tools. Often referred to as “EM&V 2.0” technology, savings measurement software is made possible by advancements in cloud computing, parallel processing and data analytics to reduce the cost and time constraints that have traditionally hindered measuring metered savings.

These savings-measurement software tools empower utilities to measure savings at the meter, transmit savings data in a continuous manner and analyze the various factors that drive program performance outcomes to optimize programs.

Policy changes cannot happen in a vacuum. The industry has to be ready to meet the requirements set forth by the California legislature and the CPUC. In this case, modern software is capable of meeting those needs. In fact, while accounting for net savings will be a significant challenge that the CPUC needs to address while writing the new rules for measurement, savings-measurement software can measure net savings through the use of robust comparison groups that span entire service territories.

The arrival of savings measurement software will be a crucial enabling tool to meet the requirements set forth by AB 802.

Measuring savings at the meter is an important stepping stone for the energy efficiency industry. As energy efficiency is called on to address climate change, serve as a compliance mechanism for the Clean Power Plan, and deliver cost-effective savings for ratepayers, we need to measure energy savings in a way that meets those challenges.

Additionally, the growing calls for market-based energy-efficiency programs will require reliable measurements of savings and savings measurement software that can produce accurate results fast enough for a market to find useful.

For all of these reasons, energy-efficiency advocates and industry leaders should be cheering for California and AB 802, and other states should begin to follow the lead of the Golden State. With the recent arrival of savings-measurement software, accounting for metered savings is now cost-effective, simple and accessible. There is no reason why 2016 can’t be the year we move to measuring savings at the meter and capturing the true and full impact of energy efficiency.

White Paper: Transforming Energy Efficiency Through Modern Measurement

 A policy perspective on savings measurement software, new data analytics that will lead to greater transparency and better stewardship of utility ratepayer funds.

By: Jake Oster, Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs

Transforming-EE-Measurement-IMAGE-download-wp

The measurement of energy efficiency has two distinct constituencies. The first includes program administrators, utilities and energy efficiency providers tasked with delivering energy savings. The other audience is made up of regulators responsible for overseeing the prudent use of ratepayer dollars to reduce demand side energy consumption. This paper is intended for that second audience, regulators who are accustomed to receiving reports on the evaluation of energy efficiency programs.

Despite the success of energy efficiency and demand-side management more broadly, the measurement of energy efficiency remains an after-the-fact exercise that provides data to both audiences after projects and programs are completed.

But change is on the horizon.

Technology is leading a transformation in the way energy savings are measured. The arrival of powerful data analytics, cloud computing, parallel processing and cutting edge software is capable of generating insights faster, cheaper and more effectively than ever before. These advances have produced an innovative new approach: savings measurement software.

Savings measurement software enhances the measurement of energy efficiency with three important changes to the average status quo.

  1. Census measurement: rather than looking at a sampling of projects, savings measurement software is capable of analyzing every piece of available data from every project.
  2. Metered measurement: instead of relying on pre-set standardized values (aka: deemed savings) savings measurement software calculates results based on the meter.
  3. Continuous measurement: near real-time measurement quantifies results throughout the program year.

For both audiences this means faster insights, greater detail and granular results, opportunities to improve program performance, automated and streamlined measurement, as well as the increased confidence in rolling out new energy efficiency pilots. Savings measurement software also offers powerful analytics to support formal energy efficiency evaluation and provide data to update regional or state technical resource manuals.

And as utilities and regulators jointly embark on restructuring how energy is generated, valued, delivered and used, savings measurement software enables energy efficiency to serve as a resource to address grid constraints, further engage customers and experiment with new models for financing energy efficiency projects.

Savings measurement is an essential tool for the future DSM industry. Regardless which audience you fall into – regulators or utilities – this white paper explains the fundamental changes underway for energy efficiency measurement, the role of “2.0” approaches to measurement and how those changes are impacting the industry and will impact the regulators that oversee DSM. Both regulators and energy efficiency providers can both agree that a faster, more detailed analysis of energy savings is an important innovation for the energy efficiency industry and the changing nature of the energy industry.

Notes from the Grid Edge

“Summer Rage” at the International Energy Program Evaluation Conference

-By Tim Guiterman

Earlier this month, I was invited to speak on a panel at the International Energy Program Evaluation Conference (IEPEC) in Long Beach, CA. This conference is held in the U.S every two years, and brings out the leading practitioners in the evaluation, measurement and verification (EM&V) field. The panel I spoke on was titled “Survival of the Fittest: Data Analytics and Evaluation.” The panel was designed to draw out the tension between data analytics and traditional evaluation. For those of you following our industry, this is a hot and somewhat divisive topic these days. I joined three other panelists including Dan Violette of Navigant, Ken Kolkebeck of First Fuel, and Ryan Bliss of Research Into Action.

Leading up to the IEPEC, a former colleague of mine told me that every summer, something in the energy efficiency industry becomes the “summer rage.” This summer’s rage appears to be EM&V 2.0.  In June, Greentech Media published an article tackling challenges with measuring and tracking energy efficiency savings, and I wrote a follow-up response to that in my last blog post. I spoke with many in the industry after the article broke, including evaluators, utilities, regulators and advocates, and while there was some disagreement about the tone of the article, there appeared to be a consensus that the industry needs to address the core issues in the article. The article sparked a vibrant discussion around the challenges of measuring energy savings, touching the EM&V field as well as new technologies under the umbrella of EM&V 2.0.

So the IEPEC proved to be a perfect place to bring this all together, and I was honored to be a part of it. Each of the panelists provided a brief presentation on their companies, roles and perspectives on this important issue. Below is what I had to say:

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I’m here today to offer you a vision of how we as an industry can adapt to the challenges of achieving energy savings, by using cloud computing and data analytics to unlock the power of measurement and provide continuous, actionable feedback on program performance.

Why am I talking about this?  Because we can all acknowledge that the way things are done today results in real problems and frustrations for those designing, managing and approving energy efficiency programs.

The way we assess program performance is through a regulatory compliance mechanism, EM&V, and while this does a great job serving that function, it is less well-suited to providing the kinds of deep, timely and actionable feedback needed to continuously monitor performance, take corrective action and enhance and improve programs. And many in this field want to begin to understand what’s really happening at the meter, what’s happening in every premises, and dive into reams of data to measure and value the savings that our industry delivers.

These quotes represent some of the challenges we hear, and that we’re trying to address:

SummerRage_1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So how does our savings measurement software work? In a nutshell, we’re leveraging established M&V protocols to perform a continuous, automated billing analysis, across every project in a program, and using large comparison groups of non-participants to control for population-wide effects (See Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 2. Billing analysis for all projects in a program, in an on-going manner, with comparison groups.

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Figure 3. Savings measurement software: how it works.

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We’re taking the data from customer meters, either monthly or AMI, residential or small/medium businesses, with a focus on programs where we can (1) tie savings to a meter, (2) there’s enough participants and non-participants to build robust comparison groups, and (3) the savings are at least 2-3% of total usage, so we can see the signal from the noise. The results of the analysis feed into a web-based dashboard which provides program managers and interested stakeholders a real-time view of program performance and deep, granular insights into drivers behind that performance.

So imagine a world in the not-too-distant future, where every project in every program in every year is continuously monitored and the savings are measured at the meter. What does this mean for this industry? Well, at EnergySavvy we see a world where we have continuous program improvement based on a steady stream of data analytics from the grid edge, providing key performance indicators such as contractor metrics, insights into savings achieved by specific measures or measure groups, location, vintage, etc. and factors driving your program towards success as well as those moving the program farther from its goals (See Figure 4). These analytics unlock the power of measurement to turn quantitative analytics into qualitative findings and actions, and this internal monitoring function is most applicable to utilities in the audience today.

Figure 4. Identify factors of both positive and negative influence on performance.

SummerRage_4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And what does this mean for external, 3rd party evaluation? In its simplest form, it’s integrated EM&V with substantially more volume and granularity of data that can inform a responsive, targeted evaluation, focused on reducing uncertainty and investigating areas of concern uncovered through the continuous monitoring of the program. Streamlined and cleaned data can help reduce burdensome data requests to the utility and potentially reduce costs and/or leverage more value-added work for evaluators.

One one hand, evaluation serves a regulatory function to ensure that programs are meeting statutory requirements. On the other hand, utilities and program administrators would like to use evaluation to inform continuous program improvement. Program managers are clamoring for evaluation to serve a developmental function and help programs improve.

Brandy Brown, “Evolution of EM&V: Moving Towards a Systems Design,” 2014 ACEEE Summer Study

But will it replace EM&V? The simple answer is no, savings measurement software will no sooner replace 3rd party evaluation than QuickBooks displaced financial auditors. Will certain programs move away from assessing impacts through deemed savings and towards continuous billing analysis, with savings measured at the meter? Sure. And they should.

So to bring all this back, where does this leave us now?

In California, we have a push towards a rolling portfolio where what counts is timelier, actionable feedback. And utilities, commissions and stakeholders are clamoring to roll EE into grid operations, and the grid requires measurement of reductions from the grid edge, not proxy algorithms.

Nationwide, we just got the most profound ruling on reducing carbon emissions in US history handed down last week. EM&V is no longer utility by utility, but will be checked at the state and federal level. Think about that for a second: EM&V is going to be used to calculate how we’re doing relative to climate change.  So now it’s no longer about measuring the impacts from a light bulb or a program, but about moving towards valuing EE in a new market for emission credits.

In conclusion, my request is this: As trusted advisors to utilities, help your clients understand how EM&V 2.0 fits into the current and future paradigm, and help them understand the importance of continuous monitoring and how this can enhance, complement and not conflict with third-party evaluation.

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That concluded most of my presentation. As you might guess, calling EM&V 2.0 the summer rage seems over the top. Rather, EM&V 2.0 is an additional tool in the toolbox for utilities, evaluators, and regulators.

At the end of my presentation I challenged the audience to re-convene this panel in two years at the next IEPEC. I asked everyone to come prepared with fully fleshed out case studies demonstrating the power of EM&V 2.0 to yield deep insights, actionable feedback and “near real-time,” responsive/developmental evaluation. I am confident that the summer rage will quickly die down, and long before my next presentation at IEPEC, EM&V 2.0 will be the norm, and our industry will find these tools indispensable.

 

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