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SECC Webinar: What Have We Learned from DR Programs and What’s to Come?

By Crystal Leaver on

Working from home kid and dog

Don McPhail from Uplight had the opportunity to participate in a recent SECC webinar, titled, “Demand Response: What Have We Learned and What’s to Come,” with Nathan Shannon of SECC and Shannon Morrow from Consumers Energy.

In 2020, Consumers Energy responded to the challenges brought on by COVID-19 by partnering with Uplight and Google to offer up to 100,000 no-cost smart thermostats to consumers while also enrolling them in a Demand Response (DR) program. 

Leading with a customer-first strategy, Shannon Morrow described building a cross-department team, breaking down internal silos, and creating a holistic, connected customer experience. As the Consumers Energy team transitioned in March 2020 to work from home themselves, they brainstormed ways to help customers who were using more energy at home and would have higher energy bills as a result. 

The free thermostat program also enabled the Midwestern utility to reach their DR program targets, which were lagging in the beginning of 2020.

Thinking bigger

Shannon Morrow and the Consumers Energy team asked themselves, “What can we do and what can we do bigger?” In response, they expanded traditional marketing efforts, enabled ways for ineligible customers to receive incentives such as a free energy efficiency kit, scaled at a larger rate to reach MISO goals, and launched a DR gas pilot program.

Removing customer friction

Don McPhail discussed the role Uplight played in helping to create a connected customer experience, removing friction in these programs. For example, a Consumers Energy customer receives a personalized recommendation to purchase a smart thermostat on the Consumers Energy Marketplace. From there, customers can enroll directly in the DR program and receive a free thermostat if they are eligible. The thermostat is then shipped pre-programmed for DR program participation. 

Results

The Consumers Energy and Uplight teams worked closely together to continually iterate on the program based on performance and customer behavior. This was especially important during the pandemic. 91% of eligible customers enrolled in Consumers’ DR program, enabling the utility to grow their electric DR program from 2,000 customers in 2019 to 25,000 customers in 2020.

Also, the majority of customers (91%) were home during an event, compared to only 35% of customers being home in previous years. This caused an increased awareness of events and more customers overriding events compared to previous years–especially during precooling. Consumers Energy adjusted their messaging to help customers better understand how precooling and DR events work. 

Best of all, Consumers Energy’s Forrester CX index score, a customer satisfaction benchmark, increased to 82 – up from 81 in 2019 despite significantly more customers being home during an event.

Looking ahead

The free smart thermostat program was a foundation for Consumers Energy to build their DR and other grid optimization programs.  In addition to the gas DR pilot, the utility plans to further increase electric DR program participation, add new thermostats, and look at how to add TOU optimization to the program to further streamline the customer experience.

Stream the webinar from SECC here.

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