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Colorado Utility Adds Mobile Intelligence

Jason Meyers

A municipal utility in Ft. Collins, Colo. is hoping a platform that provides mobile access to timely information about electricity, gas, and water consumption will help its customers take more control over their energy usage.

Fort Collins Utilities is the first utility to deploy the Energy Engage Mobile software platform from Siemens Smart Grid. Angel Anderson, project manager at Fort Collins Utilities, tells us the rollout is part of a $36 million project to deploy 55,000 smart electric meters and 65,000 smart water meters in its territory. The utility is deploying smart meters from Elster; the Siemens software collects and distributes data from the meters.

Through an online portal optimized for access from mobile devices, Fort Collins Utilities customers can track usage, view bills, and get alerts. The utility hopes access to that intelligence will help it identify inefficient settings or possible leaks and ultimately help consumers change consumption habits and lower their costs.

"We offer our customers 15 minute electric data and hourly water intervals," Anderson says.

Fort Collins Utilities opted for a mobile-optimized portal, rather than a mobile app, to make data available to a wider range of devices. According to the 2014 Utility Website Evaluation Study from J.D. Power and Associates , 54% of utility customers now regularly visit their utility's website on a smartphone, and 52% visit from a tablet. Those numbers are twice what they were a year ago. Despite those figures, more than 40% of utilities don't have a mobile-optimized channel for customer information.

For more insight on how utilities are applying communications innovation, visit our dedicated utility content channel here on Light Reading.

As more utilities deploy advanced metering infrastructure platforms, many are giving consumers more visibility into and control over their own energy usage. (See (Better) Power to the People.)

"There's a shift in how you think about the customer base and how you interface with them in the utility world," says Lisa Caswell, president of eMeter, a Siemens business. "Utilities operate from such a position of power, delivering such reliable service, but they have lagged a bit on consumer interfaces."

Caswell says she believes solutions like this will provide more consumer intelligence without increasing costs, and they could result in lower customer care costs. "Utilities will have a much greater opportunity to increase touch rate without an increase in call-center costs." Savings could be even greater if utilities extend such services to commercial and industrial customers.

— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Utility Communications/IoT, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
7/22/2014 | 5:51:49 PM
Re: Do Customers Care?
If customers are anything like, me they don't much care about going on the internet to see their "15-minute" useage. I think I may have looked at my electric account online once out of curiosity, but found it wasn't going to really  help me cut my costs.  I do have to admit though that anytime I'm outside near the smart meter I take a few seconds to look at the digital readout to see how many kilowatts I'm using at the moment. Those snapshot smart meter readings have allowed me to shut off stuff that I know I don't need running all the time.
User Rank: Blogger
7/22/2014 | 9:56:33 AM
Do Customers Care?
Utilities are really up against it when it comes to the challenge of engaging customers, many of whom may prefer to put their bills on autopay and forget about them. Services like this one will have to prove to customers that monitoring and adjusting their energy and water usage will result in tangible cost savings if utilities expect customers to make it a habit.   
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