Sunday, February 12, 2012

Consumers want better language, design, & layout for energy info

Energy usage and tariff information generally isn’t easy to understand. To get input on how to solve this problem, U.K. energy regulator Ofgem has been conducting workshops with consumers across Great Britain. The new Consumer First Panel Report lists suggestions from consumers to help them better understand and engage with the electricity and gas market.

The workshops had 110 total participants in six locations across Great Britain last fall, with the goals of:

Identify energy information needed to equip customers to make an informed decision.
Establish the communication channels through which consumers want to receive this information.
Provide insight into how energy information should be presented to encourage engagement.

Here are some suggestions that consumers offered in these workshops:

Simpler language
.Standardized and more easily understood language could better communicate key tariff and consumption information.
Fewer tariffs.Consumers proposed limiting the number of tariffs — but this could be a bad thing if time-varying options are not permitted.
Easier price comparisons.Consumers wanted to make it easier to decide which rate options are right for them.
Guidance. Electricity retailers could work to build better relationships with their customers by helping consumers find the best tariff for them, and by rewarding loyalty.

Smart meters are essential to implement three of these four recommendations in the UK. Without smart meters, actual consumption data is rarely available, since traditional meters are read only quarterly or annually.

Smart meters also provide key tariff and consumption data, because they provide data more often (at least monthly). Also, tariff (cost) data is based on actual consumption, not the estimated consumption most commonly used today.

Smart meter data also makes it easier to compare prices, thus helping consumers find the best tariff option. Actual consumption data can be plugged into smartphone, tablet, or laptop apps which makes these comparisons. Or, retailers can do this on the web. America’s Green Button initiative is one example of how this is becoming a reality in 22 states by April 2012.

It’s worth repeating: Ofgem said that clear information — in simple language — is crucial to making communication materials from energy retailers more effective. This involves improvements to the language, design and layout.

Ironically, Ofgem made this key point in slightly convoluted wording: “How saving messages are communicated and signposted is crucial.”


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