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Bringing Silicon Valley to DSM Program Marketing


Silicon Valley is the birthplace of some of the largest and most profitable companies in the world. Indeed, continuous innovation and product development have become embedded in the culture of Silicon Valley; but what causes some products to succeed over others?

jonathan houle & alysha d’souza

By Jonathan Houle, Product Marketing Manager & Alysha D’Souza, Marketing Manager, ecobee Energy

In fact, part of the success equation is the focus on building products that address tangible customer pain points; while leveraging technology to create seamless experiences.

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A profitability path – Following Silicon Valley

Thus, many Silicon Valley-based companies generally find their path to profitability by utilizing “lean startup” best practices. This involves, for instance, truly understanding a day in the life of your target customer; thus including their pain points and purchase patterns. Particularly, this is best achieved through discarding any preconceived assumptions; and also, speaking with your customers directly through primary research.

Additionally, it requires developing a minimum viable product (MVP) early on in the process to solicit customer feedback before building large-scale solutions. And lastly, focusing on the features that bring the most value to customers and validating their desire to use them.

In this way, the ultimate goal is to build features that are not just incrementally better than what customers have access to today but 10x better than current solutions that are on the market.

The start-up methodology in the energy industry

However, how does lean startup methodology apply to the energy industry and the success of demand-side management (DSM) programs? For starters, the transition to a clean and flexible grid of the future requires active participation from utility customers. Particularly, as the nation strives to achieve 100% decarbonization and electrification, individual households will play an increasingly critical role in the process.

Besides, utilities are facing increasing pressure to integrate new renewable resources within their system while minimizing costs and maintaining high reliability.

Therefore, Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) have the potential to flip the “supply- demand” energy equation, allowing demand to match available supply. However, ensuring the success of these new energy resources will rely on customer adoption and; therefore, the industry’s ability to focus our marketing efforts on the pain points and unique value propositions that resonate most with the end-user.

Hence, in order to appeal to a specific target audience, we must focus on the unique benefits offered to the customer and the problems that DSM programs can solve for

Some applications

For instance, for many utility programs, this could
be achieved by quantifying expected bill savings, automating energy conservation for customers with no additional effort required; or highlighting how these programs can enhance comfort by personalizing the customer experience.

Accordingly, automation technology is arguably essential to the success of these programs, as industry stakeholders must find innovative ways to reduce the friction involved in participating in DSM programs.

On the other hand, if customers are required to take additional steps or use frustrating and outdated methods of enrolling in energy programs; the likelihood of success will decrease significantly, and customers will not be incentivized to change their behavior.

A great rule of thumb to reference here is to meet customers where they are; for instance, identifying what type of mobile devices they have, where they spend most of their time (which websites, mobile apps, online activities); and lastly, what types of online experiences do they love that we should mimic?

Smart home devices

Thus, this is an ideal place to employ the “10x improvement” rule. Also, in order to truly change consumer behavior, how can we reposition DSM programs in the minds of customers; particularly, as a utility offering that improves their quality of life and satisfaction by 10x?

In fact, by increasing the number of smart home devices available in households across America, we have a more attainable opportunity to achieve “Load Flexibility” at scale. Besides, to bring this new demand-supply balancing act to the forefront.

For example, smart thermostats can automate participation in energy programs; particularly, by intelligently responding to pricing signals (Time-of-Use rates) and event-based DR signals; thus, helping customers effortlessly save on energy bills and reduce barriers involved in participating in DSM programs.

Indeed, Brattle has estimated that there could be ~200GW of flexible loads available by 2030; particularly, with smart thermostats consisting of ~40% of this potential.

Ultimately, removing the friction involved in the customer journey requires a multi-pronged approach; for instance, using effective marketing tactics, automating participation through smart home technology; and taking a lean startup approach to building program enhancements. When used in unison, these tactics can help incorporate the best practices used in Silicon Valley; mainly, to improve the success of DSM programs at scale.

To learn more about ecobee’s flexible load management solutions, visit utilities.

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