16,000 percent.

This is how much mobile traffic to utility company websites increased in the northeastern U.S. in the days after Hurricane Sandy knocked power (and Wifi) out for many consumers.

Utility companies need to communicate with their customers where they are-- especially in times of disaster. Providing energy usage to a website for consumers to check once a month when they pay bills does not cut it for today’s consumers. Utility companies who invest in intuitive, user-friendly consumer apps with powerful analytics and data to share with consumers will differentiate their brand among consumers. This is crucial for today’s consumers who see one kilowatt-hour from one utility company as identical to the next, with price as the only differentiator. Rather than engaging in a downward spiral of competition for lowest price with your competitors, go the opposite direction and provide value-add services through mobility. Make your mobile app convenient and critical for your consumers’ lives.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few innovative uses from out in the field:

Outage maps

Dealing with a power outage causes your consumers a lot of grief-- what’s even worse is not knowing how long the outage will last and if your utility is aware of it. After customers’ requests for better communications during outages, Southern California Edison created an app with an interactive map that shows the location and size of the outage, and power restoration estimates. Consumers can also report street light outages.

Check out one of our designer’s recent apps on custom mobile maps to understand more about creating user-friendly mobile maps.

Energy Management

In a 2013 report, Accenture found that small- to medium-sized businesses expected more from their energy providers to help conserve energy. Of the 2,200 businesses surveyed, about 52 percent in non-competitive markets and 37 percent in competitive markets said that they believe that utilities should help them better manage energy costs. The same report also found that these consumers are a flight risk; about 35 percent were considering switching energy providers.

How do you keep these customers? Provide them with the energy management tools they need. Yes, they may consume less energy, but being able to make more informed choices will increase customer loyalty and retention. The Energy Consumption Analyzer app shows a user’s energy consumption from gas, water and electric for each day, week and month in a bar or line graph with the opportunity to make notes for each day indicating unusual circumstances for energy usage. Utility companies are able to take this one step farther by also including information on peak times when consumers are charged more and empowering them to tailor their electricity usage to the most cost-effective strategy.

Navigant Research forecasts predict that 132 million smart meters will be in use by 2020. However, these smart meters provide no benefit to your consumers if consumers do not realize they exist. Consumers want a mobile app-- the same tech that they are using for important tasks every day-- to fully explore the information available via their smart meter.

Energy Education

Your consumers know, for example, that running the AC all day in the summer will cause a spike in the electricity bill. There, however, is information that you have that your consumers don't know. Your app can provide energy-saving information about their appliances and help them recognize the “phantom loads” that consume energy while not in use and even make more energy-conscious decisions when purchasing their appliances. Check out tools like CurbNeurio and PowerCost Monitor.

This is especially important for water utilities companies in drought-susceptible states who often have to force consumers to decrease water usage. It’s much easier to cut down on watering the landscaping if that landscaping is drought-resistant and a resident species of the environment. Educating consumers on what types of grass and natural vegetation will look beautiful and decrease their water bill will go a long way for their loyalty. Two applications for inspiration: The Dropcountr app connects with utilities to show consumers how much water they are using and how their usage compares to the neighborhood, and the Smartirrigation Turf app creates customized schedules for watering based on the weather conditions in the area for turf irrigators in Florida and Georgia.

The Center of the Internet of Things - Connected Home

As connected appliances and devices in the home proliferate with all of their separate apps for management, a new battlefield for becoming the “central hub” is emerging. Utility companies, hardware providers (Nest, Apple), cable companies, telecommunications providers, and others are all trying to serve consumers as the central dashboard to control all of the connected devices in a home. Utility companies have the advantage; your products are integral to day-to-day life. Provide your consumers with a platform to manage devices and integrate with common IoT household appliances.

Consider why: a consumer will be much less likely to switch providers if it also means going through another rigorous and difficult integration with a different central hub, especially if their new provider does not have the capacity or features to serve as the central hub.

The providers in the northeastern U.S. learned quickly that their communications with consumers needed to happen via smartphone. Newark, N.J.-based PSE&G,  had 22 communications and operations personnel answering questions and providing updates for 15 hours per day. They sent 9,000 tweets in 17 days.

The only question left: When are you rolling out your user-friendly mobile app?

The Power of IIoT in the Utilities Industry