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Should utilities leverage AI to push smart meters?

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  • Oct 23, 2020 9:22 pm GMT
  • 657 views

Browsing utility news this morning, I came across this special advertisement article on Forbes’ website. It promotes Bidgely, a company that specializes in providing utilities big tech-like data analytics and related AI services. In the “article”, the company’s CMO, Gautam Aggarwal, zones in on how they can help utilities market smart meters and other advanced residential technologies to customers. 

Aggarwal argues that although the marketplace for smart meters and related products will be big business this decade, utilities are ill suited to compete against the likes of Amazon. The tech giant combines mountains of data with ever smarter AI to push customers into making purchases. However, utilities have something even Amazon doesn’t: data on home-energy use. The CMO encourages utilities to use that information to target customers with more personalized marketing—with his company’s help, of course. Here’s how Aggarwal explains it: 

“Through AI-powered segmentation, utilities can create individual energy profiles for each household based on a series of characteristics, including real-time energy consumption and appliance type, and unique features, like electric vehicle (EV) charging or pool pump usage, that allow for more accurate customer targeting. By using these granular, appliance-level insights, marketers can create tailored marketing communications for their customers. 

Generic notifications about a utility refrigerator rebate program, for instance, can offer little to no value for customers without context into the individual customer's current refrigerator efficiency. Arbitrary messages like this lack actionable guidance on why a customer should make the purchase and also have the potential to create distrust.”

I can’t speak to the quality of Bidgely’s services—although maybe someone here can? However, the points Aggarwal makes about Amazon’s competitive advantage are real and shouldn’t surprise anybody at this point. My only question is if the state of things will remain this way. 

The big tech companies are coming under intense scrutiny. During the 2020 Democratic primary, numerous candidates called for Amazon to be broken up and others advocated its data/marketing practices be regulated. The Social Dilema, a Netflix documentary on the real world consequences of our favorite tech platforms' buisness models, has received a great deal of attention. 

Maybe in the next decade we will see Amazon’s data driven business model, and those that would seek to emulate it, banned. If so, utilities might do just fine marketing their smart technologies the dumb old fashioned way. Customers wouldn’t be coerced into making purchases, but energy efficiency and net load-management capability would improve more slowly.

Discussions

Gautam Aggarwal's picture
Gautam Aggarwal on Oct 27, 2020

It is true the world is changing rapidly. To your thoughts, studies show that the majority of consumers are in favor of service provideres using their data if it benefits them, and in fact, now expect the personalization it enables from such providers. Through our work with global energy providers, we have seen how AI helps them better understand their customers on a personal level, which in turn allows them to engage in more meaningful interactions and be a more effective service provider. For a utility to remain static in technology and customer engagement would be a disservice to both parties. A utility’s ability to quickly adapt to customer expectations and market trends can be supported through personalization, and we have especially seen how it better prepares them to be future-ready navigating the challenges this year.

Ben Ettlinger's picture
Ben Ettlinger on Oct 28, 2020

" appliance type, and unique features, like electric vehicle (EV) charging or pool pump usage, that allow for more accurate customer targeting. By using these granular, appliance-level insights" I am curious as to how you would capture this data? Deep sub metering? PMU data patterns? Machine Identity Management?

Gautam Aggarwal's picture
Gautam Aggarwal on Oct 29, 2020

Great question, Ben. We have pioneered and commercialized disaggregation technology, which uses patented machine learning algorithms to extract appliance energy usage insights from meter data (both smart and monthly-read meters). Our patents and technology web pages can give you access to more information if you are wanting to dig further into details: https://www.bidgely.com/technology/patents/.

Henry Craver's picture

Thank Henry for the Post!

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