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Ohio utility reveals customer app details

Wadsworth is a small town over just over 20,000 in Medina County, Ohio. The city covers electric, water, sewer, sanitation, cable, internet and even storm water for its residents. We sat down to chat with Roger King, utility office manager, about the utility’s app development called Citylink.

Editor: Tell us about the Citylink app.  What was the impetus for that?

King: The City of Wadsworth was awarded a grant by the Obama Administration as part of the economic stimulus energy package in 2009.  The grant matched funds to install a smart grid or automated metering infrastructure.  At the same time the City funded a smart water meters system. We chose a vendor and went about the business of installing, endpoints, cell relays, collection engines and smart meters. An additional program was a home area network (HAN), which was a home energy management solution.  Customers would be able to raise or lower the temperature from their thermostat in their home via the internet. With the smart grid in place, we had a lot of new information we wanted to put in the hands of our customers in regards to usage.  It made perfect sense to put all this into a smart phone application.

Editor: What was the installation/integration process like?

King: This was a fairly smooth process with the help of a local software development company, Saberlogic. They’re headquartered in Wadsworth.  After a series of meetings, we were able to pinpoint what was needed in the application. The application had to integrate with Itron’s meter data management system called Itron Enterprise Edition Client (IEE).  IEE pulls both electric and water information. Our IT department already had an existing relationship with Saberlogic, so there were no delays on this stage of the project.

Editor: What benefits did you expect for your customers with this app?

King: With Citylink, our customers can view their daily, weekly, monthly and yearly electric and or water usage. They can as far back as 2011 with their historical data.  Customers have the ability to download the information or send it to a printer. The information is also mirrored with the average daily temperature. This is a great tool to educated customers how temperature affects usage. From the menu screen, customers can sign up or opt in for either or both of our demand response electric rates. Right Time Pricing (RTP), is a time of use rate.  Peak Rewards is a demand response program that allows Wadsworth Utilities to raise the setting on their home thermostats on peak electric usage days.

To coincide with Right Time Pricing, we have a “What If” link in the app that would tell the customer how much they would have saved over the last year if they would have been on RTP. Customers can also have the ability to change their thermostat settings remotely.  We even threw in a “show and tell” function, where the customer can take a picture of something and send the picture to the proper city department.  For example pot holes, downed lines etc. Finally, there is a current weather option, which today it is clear and 80 degrees.

Editor: What benefits did you expect for yourself?

King: As a city, we first wanted to get this information in the hands of our customers so they could make informed decisions about their utility use.  We also realized the potential for savings from a demand response aspect. The ability on hot days or peak days for a customer to adjust air conditioning accordingly could save the city a lot of money in power costs.  As you know, our purchase power costs next year are related to our usage on the hottest days of this year.  Customers that have questions about their bill can go to the app, look at their usage and answer some of their own questions cutting back on calls to the utility office.

Editor: What was the reaction?

King: As the smart grid project was nearing completion, we focused advertising on our DR rate and our RTP rate.  When the Citylink app was rolled out, it was a perfect fit for those customers, as they could adjust their thermostats remotely and monitor their daily usage.

The early adopters love the features, especially the control of their thermostat and ability to see how many kilowatt-hours or gallons they used yesterday.

Editor: How does the app figure into a demand response day like the one you had on Sept. 3?

King: When we send out a signal to our customers that we will be having a critical peak day or critical peak event, as they are called, customers can use their smart phones as a first line of response, especially if they are at work or away from their home. There is so much data that the smart grid tells us.  We can graph out a specific Citylink customer to see what happened when the critical event went live.  Did they actually cut back on usage?  Did they keep that thru until the end of the event?  We are just scratching the surface with what we can do with all the information we now have in our hands.

Editor: What advice would you give another utility looking at building and utilizing a similar app?

King: First, make sure that you tie this application to your rates. Figure out who will using this application and how it benefits them. We tied it to two different rates, and you could actually be on both.

Be prepared to explain the whole smart phone app environment to a not so tech savvy customer base.

Advertise, advertise, advertise! Get the word out: social media, bill inserts, direct mail, city events, etc.  And do not stop advertising.  Let new customers to your city or company know this smart app is available for them.

Keep upgrading. (We are looking at putting a notification system tied to Citylink. Maybe even a feedback button.)

Don’t stop thinking of the possibilities that a smart mobile utility app can bring.

Kathleen Wolf Davis's picture

Thank Kathleen for the Post!

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