AI / Environment

BGE, Oracle pilot new customer engagement tools for peak power pricing

The Baltimore utility and Oracle's Opower are testing whether weekly emails can shift more customers to use energy during off-peak hours.

Power lines. (Photo by Flickr user Owen Viriyincy, used under a Creative Commons license)

Utility company Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) and Oracle are piloting a digital experience that’s seeking to help customers save on utility bills.

Launched over the summer, the pilot is designed to help customers understand information about what hours are the most expensive, and how they can orient energy usage around periods when it is less expensive, Oracle said. Diving into some of the specifics offers a glance at how a digital campaign can shape behavior around something most people get, like an energy bill.

With weekly emails that provide breakdowns and recommendations, Oracle’s Opower Behavioral Load Shaping — (Oracle acquired D.C.-based OPower in 2016 and still has a big presence in D.C. — seeks to educate customers on how the time that energy is used has a role in how much they pay.

BGE, which is the primary utility in the Baltimore area, breaks down usage into “on-peak” and “off-peak.” When it’s “off-peak,” which typically falls overnight and during weekends or holidays, that means the energy is less expensive.

For customers, shifting usage to “off-peak” times can lower their bills. Utility companies also have a desire to prompt lower usage. For one, they want customers to save money. And they’re seeking to reduce stress on the power grid during the peak periods, as well as reduce emissions, said Paul McDonald, senior director of industry strategy for Oracle Utilities.

“We’re optimistic that this kind of customer engagement tool is something that both utilities and energy consumers have needed,” McDonald said.

While it makes sense for all parties, Opower found that there was confusion and skepticism among customers about how these times worked and their effects on billing. So its team conducted a study in 2018 that settled on three principles to help reduce this confusion: They should provide educational messaging and tips that were driven by data, and they should release this messaging consistently.

After plenty of UX testing, the pilot was launched in the summer. After an initial email about peak pricing, customers in the pilot then get weekly emails that explain the usage and its effect on their bill, as well as visualizations of how it works. It also offers tips on they can shift habits to consume energy during different times. With machine learning, Opower can also analyze how specific appliances may be playing a role, and recommend those be used more during off-peak.

In all, 34,000 customers are currently enrolled, but half are a control group who are not getting the emails.

The overall idea is to test whether engaging customers more will have an impact on their behavior.

“We’re measuring things like customer satisfaction, the amount of bill savings that customers are getting, and importantly the reduction in peak energy use,” said McDonald.

This isn’t the only work the two companies are doing together: The pilot is part of a wider customer experience offering for BGE, and Oracle has an innovation partnership with BGE parent Exelon.

Companies: Oracle

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