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High Speed Bill Simulation can help increase adoption of Community Solar, EVs, Time-of-Use rates, and other Green Programs

Rob Girvan's picture
Individual Contributor, self

20+ years in Enterprise Software Applications in the Energy Industry, including ERP, Meter to Cash, CRM, Customer Engagement.

  • Member since 2013
  • 30 items added with 46,503 views
  • Feb 28, 2020

The past 5 years has seen an explosion in the number of products being offered by Electric Utilities, including community solar, rooftop solar, EV adoption programs and time-of-use rates. Many utilities offer community solar programs, basically an alternative to rooftop solar for people that can’t put solar on their rooftops, such as renters. In 2014, there were 70MW of installed community solar. By 2018, that number was 933MW. Many utilities offer EV pricing programs to incent the purchase and use of EVs. In 2014, the U.S. had 200,000 EVs on the road, accelerating to 1,200,000 in 2019. Some Utilities offer programs associated with rooftop solar. And you guessed it, roof top solar is growing by leaps and bounds as well. In 2014 there were 500,000 PV installations in the US, in 2019 that number exceeded 2,000,000. And as of 2019, over half of large US electric utilities offered time of use rates, while in 2014 only a handful offered time of use rates. All of these programs are great for the environment. Nearly everyone wants to sign up for programs that help the environment. And nearly everyone wants to know how signing up for the programs will affect their electric bill. Adoption can further accelerate beyond early adopters by utilities providing detailed estimates to consumers on how signing up for these programs affects their monthly electric bill. This is how high-speed bill simulation can help.

How would you react if you logged in your local utility website and saw an advertisement offering community solar? Environmentally conscious people are generally interested but want to know ‘how would my monthly electric bill be affected?’.  Or, if you were considering the purchase of an EV and your utility offered a special EV rate, you may want to know how charging your new EV under the special EV rate would affect your electric bill.  And how charging at midnight vs. noon can affect your monthly electric bill. Another change available to many consumers is a time-of-use rate plan, basically an offering that charges different prices for electricity based on the time of day and season. Under these plans, electricity is more expensive during peak usage periods such as hot summer afternoons and less expensive during the night, weekend and holidays. 

Providing an accurate cost estimate to consumers for enrolling in these programs can greatly assist program enrollment. High Speed Bill Simulation can help. For evaluating a time-of-use-rate plan, bill simulation technology calculates the customer’s monthly bill, over the last year (12 bill calculations) using the customer’s historical electricity usage profile, measured in 15-minute increments, applied against a rate plan that the customer is currently not enrolled in. The customer is then presented with a side by side comparison of what they paid over the last year under their current rate plan, with what they would have paid under the comparison rate plan. The customer can call the call center to request the comparison or view the comparison by logging into their account on-line. After viewing the side-by-side comparison, the customer can then choose the best rate plan.

Bill simulation technology can also assist customers in evaluating community solar, rooftop solar and EVs. With bill simulation technology, customers can identify which program they are interested in participating in, e.g. community solar, rooftop solar, EV, provide specifics such as the EV model they have or are considering purchasing. Calculations can then be made regarding how program enrollment will affect their electricity usage.  The customer’s historic electricity usage profile is then modified, and priced against one or more rate plans, in real-time, to present the customer with how their modified usage would affect their monthly electricity bill.  Now the customer knows how the specific program will affect their bill and make an educate decision on participation.

High speed bill simulation can also be used by the utility to market different programs.  For example, if a utility wanted to promote time-of-use rates, the utility can take every single customer’s usage profile, over an annual period, and calculate every single customer’s bill on two or more rate plans.  The results identify which customers would benefit from time-of-use rate plans, i.e. which customers will experience a bill increase and by how much, and which customers will experience a bill decrease and by how much. The utility can then use this information for targeted marketing.  For example, proactively letting customers know how much their bill would go down by adopting a time of use rate plan (for the subset of customers that would see a bill decrease). The results can also be used to identify how much each customer would need to change when they use electricity to reduce their electric bill under time of use rates (for the subset of customers that would see a bill increase without changing when they use electricity).  This can be effective to help reduce electricity usage during peak usage periods, which of course is the primary goal of time of use rates.

A handful of Utilities in California, Arizona, and Michigan are using high speed bill simulation in the scenarios described. The utilities proactively advise individual customers how their bill would be affected by enrollment in different time-of-use rate plans.  To do this, the utilities are calculating 12 monthly customer bills, for millions of customers, over multiple rate plans, and using the results to proactively advise each individual customer which rate plan is best for them. And making the same comparison available to the customer via an online portal and if the customer calls the call center.

High speed bill simulation can also be applied to calculate how every single customer’s bill would be affected by enrollment in community solar, adoption of rooftop solar, and EVs. The resulting information can be used to market these programs on an individual basis. The message to each individual customer might be ‘we have analyzed your monthly usage and bills over the past year, and based on historical usage, you would save $X by enrolling in our EV pricing program’. In doing so, utilities are providing customers the information they need to accurately assess enrollment in these various programs, and therefore increasing adoption. And doing the right thing for their customers.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 28, 2020

A handful of Utilities in California, Arizona, and Michigan are using high speed bill simulation in the scenarios described

I would have actually thought that the types of simulations you describe would be more prevalent. What are the barriers for adoption to them being more widespreadly implemented? Is it lack of interest on the utility side? Lack of resources/technology?

Rob Girvan's picture
Rob Girvan on Mar 9, 2020

I think the reason that it is not more prevelent is that the traditional utility billing systems were designed to calculate a bill once per month and not inherently designed for the real-time speed and volume of bills required by bill simulation.  As far as barriers for adoption, it is simply prioritization.  As Utilities roll out more rate programs and options, and adoption of the programs is a higher priority to the utility, prioritizing bill simulation increases.  I'd love to hear other opinions regarding the questions that you raised.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 9, 2020

As far as barriers for adoption, it is simply prioritization. 

What a time where we're no longer talking about whether a utility will look for change and innovation, but rather which innovative offering a utility will take. The 21st century utility is certainly here, and hopefully these customer-focused measures get bumped up the priority list

Eric Van Orden's picture
Eric Van Orden on Mar 25, 2020

ACEEE's "Leveraging Advanced Metering Infrastructure to Save Energy" report from earlier this year speaks "several use cases for leveraging AMI data, describes barriers and effective practices". While it doesn't speak specifically to high-speed bill simulation, it does mention the value of near-real-time feedback to customers (plus  behavior based feedback, CVR, TOU rates, GEBs, and Data Disaggregation). 

One takeaway that I have from the report is that AMI/advanced grid deployment can provide value to customers that they don't always directly see/notice (like improved outage response or reduced energy loss between generation and delivery).  Utilities have focused their advanced grid efforts on the bulk side of things and less on the individual customer service/experience. 

There are also utilities that don't have 15 minute interval data. I believe I've seem a number around 30% of utility customers that have AMR with monthly reads. Upgrading to AMI is one solution but there are also home energy monitoring devices that can engage customers with real-time data, while also providing the utility with insights and the ability to target customers with relevent program information, demand management notifications, and more. 

Rob Girvan's picture
Thank Rob for the Post!
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