On August 14, 2003, I was attending a meeting 25 miles from home. That afternoon a software glitch, some untrimmed trees and heightened demand for air conditioning in the hot weather allowed power lines to sag. As the hot afternoon wore on, they sagged low enough to contact trees. The lights flickered. Then everything ... stopped.
When it became clear that business had shut down for the day, I started driving home with a nearly empty gas tank, hoping I could make it on what I had. I couldn't fill my tank. Stations had no power to pump gas or to charge me for it. As a single mom with a toddler at home, I felt panic flow over me.
It's not an accident that Brilliency has origins in the Blackout. The economy had switched OFF — from Cleveland, Ohio across the US to the Atlantic ocean and up into Canada. The blackout affected at least 55 million people — at home and at work.
Nor was electricity the only utility affected. Then Cleveland Mayor, Jane Campbell told the Plain Dealer, "The biggest crisis we have is water… water is very precious right now." 
People matter. It’s the impact on their lives that makes me care about the Blackout. It’s the threat of future blackouts. There continue to be significant economic losses due to power failures in the US. It isn’t always hot weather. Sometimes it’s technology issues, or forest fires, or hurricanes and flooding. Hundreds of millions of dollars of economic loss occurs each year in the US from blackouts alone. And that affects millions of lives. My power went out today.
People are the reason Brilliency exists.
The world's complexity and interconnection increases every month. Technology plays a massive role in shrinking our ability to hide from each other. What we do now reaches farther than ever before. Technological advances also reveal the impact of our actions on each other from our backyards to our planet, both here and now and for generations to come.
When it comes to what we build, how we make and use energy and what we throw away, the ways we amplify power, every increase in speed and convenience affects our world. Collectively we will affect billions of people for hundreds of year … for better and worse.
Of course, we are not all able to have direct effects on the policies and practices that make immediate and sweeping change. Our actions may not be grand, but the line between grand scale and grandstanding is often thinner than it appears.
Meanwhile, we each do have a sphere of influence, and the accumulation of small decisions by many people often have the most impact. And, small changes, small acts that align with our values can inject every day with hope and meaning, especially when we can see the difference.
The Blackout happened in part because of the thermostat settings on that hot in 2003. People couldn’t know, as they left for work that morning, that their thermostat settings would leave them without power for days. Utilities and the public had less ability to understand and respond in time. But that is changing, Brilliency exists to help change it for the better.
Thankfully my family was okay during the Blackout — I made it home. Five days of suburban camping commenced. Thank goodness I had spent weeks as a teen with a canoe and backpack in the boundary waters of Canada! I had tools and skills that made the chaos survivable. Not so for many other people.
Even unplanned and involuntary return to nature (i.e. suburban camping) gives one time to think. That was when I started thinking hard about the relationship between energy, water, homes, businesses, governments — in essence, our social contract. It was easy to project that change would come, but precisely what change and how ... that was the question that stayed with me until Brilliency was born.
The Blackout underscored the need for significant change, but the resulting new technologies and energy efficiency mandates met with predictable difficulties. It's easy to complain about polarization, and especially about the other sides of debates. But the diversity of opinion is a necessary part of generating workable solutions.
Even today, the surprising agreement exists between camps on the most basic and important responses. Although the camps differ sharply over their reasons, they often agree to a remarkable extent on what they want to know and what they would like to be able to do about utility use in their own homes and workplaces.
Nobody likes waste, but people do like understandable, timely information.
Access to better, more up-to-date information about utility usage aligns people from different camps on actions that benefits everyone, whichever motives predominate. We find that money, environmental, technological and convenience motivations all urge greater efficiency with resources and time. When utilities can provide this, they also get more of what they want, the ability to provide enhanced services that are more reliable and affordable than they could otherwise be.
Brilliency exists to help you understand — and take meaningful action on — the things that matter to you.
Change comes when people have information, passion and a clear path forward.
Brilliency provides a platform that ensures people have a way to understand and access essential services: electricity, heat and water. It does this by re-defining the relationship between people and businesses that deliver those basic needs so that people, companies, utilities and communities can work together more effectively to ensure ongoing access to affordable and reliable basic needs — today and tomorrow.
When you can see and respond to your utility usage, you can improve every one of those areas. For instance, saving energy in your business helps you improve your financial stability.
Protecting Our Environment
Environmental change can seem remote and make people question their ability to make a difference. But, I'm from Cleveland. I know that small changes we can make here can make all the difference in the world. Our river was on fire 50 years ago. This year the river is safe to fish, and American Rivers named it “River of the Year.”
Before Fitbit, did you know how many steps you took each day and why 10,000 steps a day was a great metric to follow for personal health? Without Brilliency, you have no way to know how much of a given natural resource you are using, or what a sensible baseline is for environmental health.
The environmental impact of your utility choices affect you and others in surprisingly immediate ways. For instance, using less grid-supplied energy reduces air pollutants in your region, period.
Utilities also have incentives that align their interests with customers. Regulation, cost-savings, and infrastructure limitations are three. With the proper flow of information, utilities themselves are online and onboard — able to bring a new level of service to their customers.
We created Brilliency to facilitate engagement between utilities and customers. Sensible responses to change require information and communication. People need to talk. Without Brilliency, there is no two-way communication platform between you and your utility. Why do I want to engage with my utility, you might ask?
You might want something that makes your life simpler: one place to manage all of your utilities. You might want a single tool to make tracking your usage instead of having to check all of your utilities, your wifi-thermostat, your wifi-plugs, your solar installation and your electric vehicle platforms. Wow, that was a long list, and it is only 2019. 
Why does a utility want to engage with customers? Well, one-third of their customers are not always timely with bill payments. Utilities spend a lot of money collecting unpaid bills - costs everyone shares. We help deliver messages that are proven to increase timely bill pay. More importantly to us, engagement with you helps them understand you so that they can provide you more reliable, customized and cost effective solutions. And, stop bothering you with things that do not matter.
The Northeast Blackout causes extreme economic losses. But the ongoing economics of utilities is a silent tragedy. Data suggests that lack of affordable access to utilities has direct and negative correlation to health. When people on fixed incomes, often living in energy-inefficient housing, cannot monitor, anticipate and budget their utility usage, they sometimes cannot pay for food, shelter, and medical care along with utilities. Choosing between hunger and freezing is one nobody should have to make. The lights may still be on, but this silent tragedy casts a dark cloud over whole communities.
For people in the lowest income brackets, managing their usage and payments can be the difference between freezing and keeping the heat running. For all of the businesses, governments, and other organizations that serve them, this matters too. Brilliency can help utilities and housing authorities serve their customers better, and benefit by doing it.
There is so much to gain, and so little to lose.
Beyond the Blackout
What was painfully obvious in 2003 is that the status quo had failed us, and we would have to respond. We have. We still are, but the electric grid is not out of the woods yet. As Flint, Michigan still demonstrates so publicly, neither is the water infrastructure.
The things that we've addressed have been the cheapest and the most urgent. Many of the coming changes will cost your utility more — and they will absolutely affect your bottom line.
One link in the chain reaction that cost us so much was increased demand from air conditioning on a hot day. In 2003 there were no wifi thermostats to allow people to respond to a demand call from utilities in a moment's notice.
Utilities still cannot build systems that communicate with all of the different wifi-thermostats. But Brilliency does. And we give utilities one way to reach all of their customers in a moment's notice without worrying what brand you have in your home or business.
You, Me & Brilliency
The reasons you might decide to use Brilliency are many, and will depend on your situation and your values, but here are a few:
- To see how you are using utilities
- To understand how your decisions affect your utility usage
- To simplify your account management
- To save money, energy, and natural resources
- To earn rewards
- To manage their home or business budget
- To access to cutting edge tech
- To leverage data for decision-making
- To receive timely information that supports these activities
The new app
Okay, we can’t finish without mentioning the newest addition to our digital platform: the mobile app. If your fitness tracker and your favorite retail app fused into a killer app, you’d have met Brilliency. The app is just one part of Brilliency’s digital platform. That’s one reason we’re so excited about it. It makes the digital platform even more convenient for people - and businesses.
For me, the motivation to make Brilliency comes from a recognition that homes and businesses cannot survive, that economies cannot thrive, without reliable and affordable access to basic needs: electricity, heat and clean drinking water. When utilities fail it stops our economy and our lives — sometimes in tragically literal ways.
We need each other to ensure affordable and reliable access to basic needs in the future — tomorrow, in 2050, 2100 and beyond. Brilliency is a platform that helps you and your utility make that future together.
- The Plain Dealer, August 15, 2003, p. A1.
- This feature unlocks for you when your utility engages with Brilliency as a license holder.