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Balancing the Grid with Aloha

Posted by Wannie Park on November 23, 2015
Balancing the Grid with Aloha
In Hawaii, homeowners received in-home displays so they could view their personal energy consumption in real-time.

Hawaii is notorious for leading the nation in aloha spirit—and solar power. Up to 53% of Hawaii's system peak load is powered by solar, a whopping penetration level that dwarfs the rest of the country.

It’s an amazing accomplishment that’s come with a heavy dose of growing pains. Utilities are rewiring their systems to integrate solar, shift demand, flatten supply, and ultimately dodge the feared “Nessie curve” that comes with intermittent power sources—and threatens to leave the state’s grid in shambles.

Much has been made of the policy initiatives, technology innovations, and partnerships deployed to smooth out the Hawaiian grid. Surprisingly, we’re seeing that a homegrown weapon (the aloha spirit) in combination with smart grid technology is poised to make a real dent in solving some of solar’s most severe growing pains.

My company, CEIVA Energy, recently worked with Hawaii Energy and Hawaiian Electric (HECO) on a project to engage Hawaiians and deliver benefits from their smart meters. We gave customers in-home displays so they could view their personal energy consumption in real-time, not just at the end of the month when their bill arrived.

Here’s where the aloha spirit came into play. We attracted customer attention to the displays by presenting pictures of loved ones and their communities on the display. Once we had their attention, we rotated in personalized information about ongoing energy use that, sadly, most customers never would have looked at otherwise. The displays also presented energy information in terms customers could understand, using familiar terms like dollars instead of kilowatt hours. The utility even sprinkled in engaging messages about community events. Luau anyone? 

Customers loved it. Eighty-six percent of program participants said they preferred to get real-time energy information from the display over other communications channels, like a website. And qualitative feedback showed repeatedly that the program ignited interest in energy use. One participant told us that “real-time energy information did change my thinking about energy.” Another loved the detailed information, saying, “This is a great tool that has shown me a realistic breakdown of daily electricity usage.” And still another was inspired to take action, reporting that “it’s working great. Find myself moving the in-home display from room to room, turning off and on stuff to determine the energy impact.”

We’ve seen time and time again that creating engaged customers like these is essential to power successful demand side management programs. Consider our work with National Grid’s Smart Energy Solutions program, where our in-home display combined with a demand response management system helped customers saving a bonus 20% during peak events. Another previous deployment of similar aloha-spirited messages and smart grid technology with Glendale Water and Power led to a ninefold improvement in energy understanding and drove 83% of customers to change their behavior around energy use.

As the state surfs toward its ambitious goal of reaching 100% renewable energy sources by 2045, utilities in Hawaii will increasingly turn to customer engagement to create more effective demand side management programs and stabilize the grid. We’re already seeing that engaging visuals that harness our fundamental human interest in friends, family and community are vital to fostering that engagement. And as more and more states follow in Hawaii’s flip-flopped footsteps, these thoughtful engagement strategies will only grow in importance.

 

 

Wannie Park serves as Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at CEIVA Energy, a smart grid solutions company that helps utilities capitalize on smart meter investments to engage customers, implement demand response programs, and comply with regulations. 

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