Texas consumers have come to expect low rates and high reliability when it comes to their electric service. Except for storm-related disruptions, power is typically available when you need it, in whatever quantity you need it, and at a level price. As a result, most electricity customers do not consciously consider their impact on the energy market. However, the energy market that supplies electricity to homes and businesses can be highly volatile. Market participants including generators, traders, and electric providers can experience significant financial impacts during critical power grid events. In extreme events when demand outpaces supply, drastic conservation measures like rolling blackouts may be required.
One concern regarding the installation of smart meters in Texas is that retail electric providers would phase out popular fixed price rates in favor of real-time pricing plans. These plans would transfer market risk from the retail electric provider to the consumer. The impact of smart meters on retail electric rate plans, however, has been quite the opposite. A more collaborative and participative approach to responsible energy conservation has developed.
Innovative Electricity Plans
Direct Energy and its affiliate Bounce Energy are offering consumers the opportunity to receive rewards for reducing electricity usage during times when the power grid is strained or when high consumption threatens the energy supply. Reduce Your Use Rewards is the Direct Energy Program. Direct Energy can call a “peak event” between 1pm and 7pm on summer days and from 6pm to 8pm on winter days. Customers are notified of the peak event through their choice of email and/or text message as well as an alert on their online account portal. If the customer reduces their usage by the amount specified in the notice, they receive a 5% discount on the following month’s bill. Direct Energy is currently offering this program to residences equipped with smart meters in the Oncor and Centerpoint utility service areas.
Bounce Back Energy Rewards is the Bounce Energy Program. Bounce Energy can call a “peak event” during summer between the hours of 1pm and 7pm. In the winter, peak events can occur between the hours of 6am to 9am and 6pm to 8pm. The messaging and rewards work the same as the Direct Energy program with customers receiving a 5% credit on their next bill if they meet the usage reduction criteria. A key feature of both the Direct Energy and Bounce Energy programs is that there is no penalty if the customer is unable to reduce their usage. It is simply an opportunity to participate in energy conservation and share in the benefits of doing so.
Energy Conservation Tips
To reduce electricity usage, Bounce Energy recommends that consumers consider the following energy conservation measures:
- Increase thermostat setting in summer months to at least 78 degrees
- Use ceiling and personal fans to increase air flow
- Operate washer/dryer/dishwasher only in the morning or after 8pm
- Routinely replace air condition filters
- Unplug electronics that consume electricity even when in the “off” mode
Programs like these that encourage and reward residential electric customers to reduce usage during critical times are starting to appear. Addressing several key areas is critical for these types of plans to become more popular with consumers. First, the reward must be meaningful. Many consumers will not want the hassle unless the reward is worthwhile. Using less electricity is part of the reward for energy conservation but it remains to be seen what additional financial incentive is required to increase appeal. Second, the participation goal has to reasonable. If the reward requires conservation to the point that it is impractical, consumers will not even attempt to hit the target reduction. Graduated rewards could be a solution to get broader participation. Finally, integrate smart thermostats with the peak event notices. Consumers who are not home during the day might want the notice to trigger an automatic cooling adjustment. Keep it simple, rewarding, and easy to manage and we will see how these programs evolve.