The Association for Demand Response & Smart Grid has released a new case study that examines engaging customers around a critical peak pricing program. The case study is based on interviews with employees of Pacific Gas & Electric about the utility's "SmartRate" program, which began in 2008 and now enrolls 100,000 customers in critical peak pricing. The narrative-style case study is the third in an ADS series that goes behind the scenes to examine the goals, reasoning and processes used to design and evaluate program offerings and tools.

"This case study highlights a trend where more and more utilities are offering demand response and time-based pricing programs to their customers" said Dan Delurey, Executive Director of ADS. "As these programs become increasingly available, they become another tool that adds to traditional energy efficiency offerings to customers. Offering both kinds of programs in a unified way is a key consideration for utilities, and we will be examining that very topic at the upcoming National Summit on Integrating Energy Efficiency and Smart Grid on Oct. 15-16."    

Delurey noted that the PG&E SmartRate program was chosen as a case study subject because of its focus on customer service and its long-range view of program design. The case study, which was funded by the Department of Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, explains that the following are among the lessons learned by PG&E in implementing the SmartRate Critical Peak Pricing Program.

  1. Start with Segmentation. Success is dependent on customer participation, so make the most of the resources used to acquire and keep customers. Conduct thorough segmentation analysis before the program begins and choose a realistic customer target.
  2. Focus on Customer Satisfaction. Design both a communication strategy and the rate program itself with a single objective: to create a clear, convenient, relevant customer experience. Even the way customers who don't succeed on the program are treated has an impact on market transformation.
  3. Create Cross-Functional Delivery Teams. Do not release a product until it is clear every functional team can deliver what customers say they want and need. Then create a program team that is responsive to customers all up and down the delivery chain. Every team member, from the IT team to CSRs, should have the potential to positively impact the customer experience.
  4. Put Smart Meter Data to Proper Use. The ability to combine the personalized insight of interval data with management tools can create more value for consumers – but only if driven by an intention to better serve customers.

"Like the previous case studies released by ADS, the case study of the PG&E SmartRate program uses interviews to provide an inside view of implementing a demand response program," said Delurey. "You get to hear from PG&E personnel not just what their conclusions are, but how they got there, with all of the starts, stops and course changes along the way. We hope that practitioners and policymakers will use this to see what lessons were learned by PG&E and how they might be applied to their own work."

The case study can be found on the ADS website at www.demandresponsesmartgrid.org/CaseStudies.