Optimizing Demand Response Programs During COVID-19

By Don McPhail on

Family at Home in Kitchen

Customers’ energy use patterns are changing drastically during COVID-19 stay at home orders, resulting in cascading implications on Demand Response (DR) and Time of Use (TOU) programs. On April 23rd, Uplight representatives Indran Ratnathicam, SVP Marketing & Strategy, Julia Renn, Lead Product Designer, Courtney Staufer, Director of Consumer Marketing, Shannon Oleynik, Community and Events Manager, and myself joined a group of our utility partners to discuss preparation for a unique cooling season. 

As we shared on our blog on April 14th, COVID-19 is reshaping consumer energy behavior more than originally estimated. In the first three weeks of stay at home orders, we have seen increases of 20-30+ in residential energy use in the territories we’ve analyzed, with demand increases of 20-35% during peak times. Based on this data, it seems like residential energy use may partially offset the steep decline in C&I usage, and several utilities are looking at an increasing role residential DR resources can play due to suppressed C&I resource capacity. But these increases in residential energy usage also pose challenges for customers–something that utilities can’t ignore.

COVID-19 Energy Comparison

Here is a summary of the key insights that were shared during the working group session:

Program messaging is shifting to meet customers where they are.

Utilities are using messaging in Marketplace and DR acquisition campaigns that focus on program outcomes rather than  sales messaging. Customers are still engaging with DR program emails and we have even seen a spike in enrollments for one utility client that is continuing to run program marketing. Programs that involve an in-home visit for installation – such as for switches – have almost entirely been put on hold, however utilities are continuing to launch digital marketing for programs that are DIY, such as smart thermostat programs. 

Rate changes and rollouts are largely on pause right now. 

Many utility customers who would have saved on time-of-use rates are now unlikely to save due to stay at home orders. Several utilities talked about delays to rate pilots and new rate rollouts as they reconsider messaging and determine how best to engage and educate customers whose priorities have shifted drastically. In preparation for an expected increase in questions around high bills this summer, some utility clients have proactively developed Q&A documents for call center representatives. 

Empathy and program value messages are key to DR success during COVID-19. 

Customers interested and enrolled in DR programs are focused on comfort, control, effort, and cost–especially as they are home all day. They are asking more questions than they may have previously, like, “What will the impact be on my home?” And, “How easy is it to get out of an event?” At Uplight, we are addressing these concerns by reinforcing low impact temperature adjustments and simple event overriding. We’re also appealing to the positive community impact of DR participation, a message that is resonating well with customers right now.

With more time spent at home and online, customers are more aware of the overall utility experience than ever. It is clear that COVID-19 is a major disruptor to residential energy use–resulting in a change in what customers need and expect from their utility. In this challenging time, programs that help customers save energy will become even more critical as temperatures increase and customers remain at home. With the right messaging and alignment of customer experience across multiple programs and solutions (e.g. Marketplace, DR, HERs, Alerts, Portals) utilities can continue to drive DR program enrollments and help customers save throughout the summer.

If you’re interested in learning more or attending future Working Groups, please email community@uplight.com


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