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Supercharging Behavior and the Four Dollar KiloWatt Hour

Google search tells me that I have never used the word “hoopla” in an Energy Rant.  Here goes.  There is a great deal of hoopla in the industry for behavior programs.  Last week, AESP featured a brown bag webinar – Current and Future Trends for Behavior Change Energy Efficiency Programs.  It is so new, it isn’t yet available in the AESP library, at least as I write this.  Now that I mention it, the other half of our subcommittee produced a Strategies newsletter article for commercial and industrial behavior programs, coming next month.  Don’t take your eye off the inbox.

Behavior programs of various stripes will be the hot delivery method for a long time – to use a cliché – it will be the secret sauce.  Actually, this post is about the secret sauce for behavior programs.  A great number of behavior programs lack any of “my” secret sauce entirely, and others have only a tiny amount – like using ketchup for barbecue sauce.

This is all related, so hang in there.  A couple weeks ago at the International Energy Program Evaluation Conference (IEPEC) in Long Beach, Bill LeBlanc from E Source gave the closing plenary.  As usual, he did not disappoint.  The thing about LeBlanc is every time I see what he has to say it is fresh material.  That was true in this case as well.

As part of making his point, which included the fact that our industry hasn’t learned much in 20 years (he proved it), he shared this video of his Power Walking 2014.  The video immediately gets to the brunt of this post.  Consumers on the street know precisely how much a gallon of gasoline costs.  Going further, they know how many gallons it takes to fill whatever it is they drive.  He, of course, then moves on to the price of electricity.  People on the street, except for one guy, had no clue whatsoever.

I would take it a step further.  People buy gallons of milk, and they buy gallons of gasoline.  They can see the volume and they know what it does for them (miles per gallon or tank full), very precisely.  Only nerds reading this blog have some idea for the amount of energy in a kWh.  It’s 3,413 Btu.  A Btu, or British thermal unit, is the amount of energy needed to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.  Dazzle your spouse with that!  This, too, of course is meaningless to even the nerds reading this blog.

This will really put it into perspective for you: one kilowatt is enough to power a mechanical bull.  If you don’t believe it, come to the reception Wednesday night at the AESP Summer Conference in Niagara Falls.  (a tacky plug – sorry)

Almost no one knows what electricity costs, and no one knows what a unit of energy, the kilowatt-hour, can do for them.  And we are trying to get “these people” to behave?  For reasons that consumers/customers have no clue what a kilowatt-hour can do for them, what it costs, and how many kilowatt-hours a widget will save for them, I said conventional programs treat people like animals, or more appropriately pets.  That was in Behavior Programs – Woof.  I firmly stand by that, even though it upset some squeaky people who take things too seriously.

Instead, at least for residential customers, why not provide hourly pricing with a home monitor and phone/tablet apps.  People can use forecast pricing, which utilities can project a day in advance with relative ease.  Now people know when it is expensive or cheap to wash clothes, take a shower, cook food, or run the air conditioner.  Furthermore, not only can they have the price every hour, they could know what it costs to do a load of laundry or run the dishwasher every hour of the day.  There is plenty of inexpensive technology and knowhow to make this happen reliably.

Finally, we would be treating people like thoughtful, rational humans.  Just think of the leverage this would give to a behavior program!

Another thing is that people will take $5 right now in lieu of $10 next week.  Avoiding loss is also a stronger motivator than the weak promise of getting something (savings) in the future.  These things are well documented in psycho testing.  My plan covers both – it tells the customer right now what the consequences of his/her decisions are for energy cost for something that could happen right now; or maybe wait a couple hours and watch a movie on the iPad in between.  Or better yet, go for a walk or run.  It obviously lets the customer avoid loss in a very clear and quantified way.  Heck, they can even have their smart meter show them in real time for proof.

What is the big holdup here?  This isn’t pie in the sky.  I mentioned it a couple weeks ago in Pricing PV Energy – the Tomato WinsE Source wrote about time variant pricing a month and a half ago.  Utility Dive backs my idea for PV pricing for supply.  Just move it to the demand side as well.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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