Monthly Archives: October 2013

AESP Fall Conference in Seattle

Everyone already knows that the “customer is always right,” but an important point stressed at this year’s AESP Fall Conference is that the customer often has a difficult time articulating their problems. It’s important not only to listen to your customers, but also to examine what they’re not saying, and analyze their actions in order to interpret what they mean. This was refreshing to hear, as doing quality research is about more than just tabulating data–it’s also providing the context needed to understand information.

This year’s AESP’s fall conference: Tools & Technologies to Drive Program Participation focused on exploring opportunities to harness big data, better understanding customer motivation, improving market segmentation approaches, and presenting best practices for marketing and outreach. Presenters demonstrated how publicly available data sets can be utilized to develop geographic regions made up of customers likely to benefit from a utility program.  Panelists in both the residential and nonresidential tracks talked about census data, assessor data, and other free sources that can be combined with existing utility data sets in a fairly simple ways to provide new, valuable insights.  For example, FirstFuel showed how they routinely analyze a combination of weather data, census data, and metered interval data to identify opportunities for energy savings without visiting a site in person.

In describing website usability testing, one presenter explained that designing a good website is about making it hard for people to fail. The speaker suggested thinking like a billboard writer, and played a clip of the user accessing a website for the first time and clearly skimming the text for keywords.

Highlights of the event also included an opening plenary panel session of large company VPs discussing lessons learned about customer engagement, and a closing Q&A with implementers and evaluators. The plenary panel was composed of senior management of a few large US corporations: Microsoft Business Solutions, Alaska Airlines, REI, and Costco. Nearly all had recommendations on how the customer can be better served.  Some of my favorites: 

  • Provide high-quality customer service, consistently and at all customer touch points
  • When something goes wrong be as transparent as possible, move quickly, apologize immediately, resolve the situation and move on.
  • Customer problems may not be what they initially seem. Listen first and then develop a solution that addresses the problem.
  • Whenever a company is silent, customers assume the worst.
  • Customer engagement and contact is critical for any company – even the lean ones.  No matter how small the company, customers always need to be able to reach a real person.
  • Good employees are often hampered by bad tools. Give great tools to your employees to help them serve the customer well.
  • Continually improve.  There will always be someone out there figuring out a better way to serve your customer.

Opinion Dynamics also had a good showing at the conference, and staff from the Oakland and Waltham offices participated in three of the residential panels. 

  • Kessie Avseikova presented with Melanie Coen of National Grid on the results of a micro-targeting effort for Massachusetts ‘Efficient Neighborhoods+’ program. As part of this effort, Opinion Dynamics used GIS software, census data, pasted energy efficiency program participation, and energy usage to identify communities for program outreach. 
  • Mikhail Haramati moderated the residential panel “Can Big Data Equal Date Engagement?” The team of experts included a senior utility products manager, a behavior program implementer with a long history in CRM software, analysis software specialists from E3 Energy and Tendril, a marketing VP, and a former Dept. Mf Defense data security expert.
  • Hannah Arnold moderated the session “Make Marketing Magic — Mastering New Tricks with Technology.” The speakers described: how to leverage paid and unpaid social media, approaches for website optimization, usability testing as a tool to understand customer thought and motivation, the successful development of online utility incentive programs that are integrated with how customers use the web to purchase new products.

AESP’s fall conference was held in Seattle, September 30-October 2, and was attended primarily by program implementers, utilities, evaluators, product developers, and consultants. For more information on the conference including the agenda and panel visit AESP.

Public Sector and academic staff present three examples of best practice in energy data use during webinar

On Thursday, September 26, CEEIC held the second webinar in its three-part series on intelligent energy management. The panel featured speakers from Greenbutton, UCLA’s CA Center for Sustainable Communities, and SMUD discussing their experiences working with large volume energy data.  The webinar was moderated by Mikhail Haramati of Opinion Dynamics.

Green Button

John Teeter, presidential innovation fellow at NIST, described the genesis of the Green Button Initiative as a White House inspired, industry led partnership to help utility customers gain access to their energy data using a standardized approach.  He provided examples of utilities that have implemented Green Button, efforts taken to protect privacy, and development of data platforms needed to share and access data from the various utilities.


Sinnott Murphy, a senior researcher at the California Center for Sustainable Communities, provided an overview of the Urban Metabolism Baseline project at UCLA intended to provide a data driven picture of resource consumption into and out of LA County.  The project is in progress, and Mr. Murphy explained the data sets employed, steps taken to clean and prepare the data, and the beneficial uses of the resulting analyses. He also provided examples of current GIS-based analysis and the steps through which the data is cleaned, aggregated, and physically secured. Example maps included income intensity of electricity consumption across LA County, and annual cost of electricity.


Jim Parks, Program Manager of Energy Research and Development at SMUD, connected demand-side management with smart grid integration and operations. He provided an introduction to SMUD’s experience with smart meters, explained data storage changes and challenges, and presented the results of the SmartSacramento Pricing Pilot (SPP) that found savings for all customers participating—especially for those who opted in.

Mr. Parks also demonstrated the Situational Awareness and Visual Intelligence (SAVI) tool used to monitor SMUD’s electric transmission and distribution system. SAVI overlays Google Earth-based images of SMUD’s territory with input from the transmission and distribution system in order to detect embedded outages, provide information on system component, real-time conditions, and monitoring of power flows.  Mr. Parks showed maps from the SAVI system that identified electric vehicles, distributed generation, and an individual substation.

The next webinar in the series is e-EE and will focus on energy efficiency on the web.  The webinar series is free to CEEIC members and guests and will be held on October 17.