BYOT

Many utilities now use, or have used, incentive programs encouraging customers to install more energy efficient appliances, HVAC, and LED or CF light bulbs, AEE noted in 2013. The next level of efficiency gains, though, require users to do more than just screw in a light bulb or buy a new refrigerator.

BYOT stands for “Bring Your Own Thermostat or Bring Your Own Things,” according to a the Peak Load Management Alliance’s report on BYOT (discussed and linked below). It could be viewed as the utility-specific manifestation of the wider bring-your-own phenomenon called, “Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT)… or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).”

Expand the abbreviation as you like, the upshot is that proactive customers are bringing their own devices and they want utilities to support it. The vanguard and poster child for this phenomenon in utilities is the communicating thermostat — especially the smart thermostat, which proactive utilities are encouraging customers to acquire, install, and use.

“Thermostats [are] an increasing share of DR enabling technology, and BYOT as an increasing share of how thermostats are acquired for DR programs,” notes an in-depth 2018 PLMA report (link below).

Despite more than five years of development by utilities and tech startups, it’s still early enough to get ahead of the curve with adoption.

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BYOT Past Rooted in DLC

BYOT is primarily relevant to utilities as a demand response (DR) tool, and as such, it has almost 50 years of history starting with direct load control. “Direct load control, or DLC. …is a utility-sponsored demand-side management program where customer participation in the program is voluntary, but participation in load control events is not—even though most programs offer ways to opt out of control for specific needs,” according to an Electric Light & Power article, which goes on to say that DLC has a continuous, 50-year history. “DLC is the oldest form of dispatchable demand-side management. Many DLC systems that were launched as far back as the late 1970s remain in use throughout the United States.”

While this can help with demand, “local intelligence in controllers, “is intended to determine the optimal control strategy…” and reduce wide fluctuations in demand caused by simultaneous automated reduction across many customers.

BYOT Right Now

In that Enegerati post, Navigant quoted one of their senior research analysts: “Utilities across the United States have been piloting BYOT DR programmes since 2012… By taking advantage of two-way communicating smart thermostats, BYOT DR programmes can help utilities reduce acquisition costs for load curtailment programmes and improve customer satisfaction.” The two-way communication they were describing was IoT communication; utility hardware talking to customer hardware without (much) human engagement — especially from the customer perspective — after the customer opts into the program.

Navigant Research said that, “Customers want hassle-free… flexible [interoperability].” See how Brilliency can help your utility smooth the customer experience.

Technological advancement is increasing customer control, access, and visibility. Where a load control receiver (LCR) might be located on the appliance, e.g., furnace, and mostly unnoticed by the customer after installation, programmable thermostats and smart thermostats are on the wall in some of the most-used rooms in a home.

Energy Efficiency IncentivesBeyond DR; BYOT and customer engagement. The smart thermostat and subsequent devices along with their phone and wearable apps, are also new access points for customer engagement. Households with the Nest smart thermostat for instance received notices that they could participate in automated demand response as the 2017 solar eclipse reduced solar production. Nest notified them of this option via the thermostat’s screen.

Before the eclipse, customers received a message on their thermostats and could opt in with “just one press.” Many did. “More than 750,000 Nest Thermostats worked together to reduce energy demand by 700 MW during the eclipse.” Nest’s website boasted.

Thermostats classified as “communicating” are not all the same. The older type is what the ELP article called a, “programmable communicating thermostat.” The newer type, the Smart Thermostat, could be thought of as a subset of PCTs, but they are different enough in the way that they work to be considered separately.

BYOT Future

Utilities can expect their customers to bring their own thermostats and other devices.

Smart Thermostats and possibly other technology, are close enough to users and interactive enough to be seen as desirable smart home products. Unsurprisingly, these are also the devices that users are interested in bringing. Exactly 40% of respondents in a pilot study by Xcel Energy Colorado, indicated that they would’ve bought a smart thermostat sometime within the next year even without the study’s rebate program. Another quarter said they, “would have purchased a smart thermostat after a year,” even without knowing about the rebate.

The Navigant cited an estimate 20 million customers in BYOT DR programs like Xcel Energy’s. (in the article linked above). More recent research indicates that the number of utility customers with BYOT devices could be substantially higher. Parks Associates estimates that, by 2020:

  • more than 12 million U.S. households will have a smart water leak detector,
  • more than 40 million will have a smart thermostat,
  • nearly 50 million will have a smart light bulb, and
  • nearly 14 million will have a smart home controller

It’s hard to imagine that every one of those tens of millions of households will not want to participate DR programs — provided utilities effectively communicate the option to customers.

So what can a utility do? PLMA makes three recommendations in its 2018 BYOT report:

  • “Make sure that BYOT at scale is a part of your DR strategy; leverage compelling up-front incentives to encourage customers to install connected thermostats and enroll them in DR programs
  • “Keep it simple for you and for your customers by selecting a small set of thermostat options (go with the “edited choice” model)
  • Look at thermostats as a platform: choose vendors that enable multiple value streams for customers and utilities.”

At Brilliency, we would add one more:

  • Make sure that you have the means to communicate it effectively — in places where your customers will notice and remember the information — about these programs.

An incentive program doesn’t do any good if you can’t get enough of your customers to take notice of it. No matter who brings the technology, customers need to learn how to install, configure, and even train it with efficient habits. For utilities and their customers to get the most out of new technology — no matter who brings it — communication is key.


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