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Looking at Energy: Choice, Responsibility & Connection

Innate has a history of providing interactive solutions across a broad spectrum of dynamic industries. Few industries today are more dynamic than the energy sector.  With the advent of deregulation energy companies — and their consumers — face the challenge of understanding how energy consumption is changing, evaluating options, and exercising responsible choices. Mike Koch, Innate’s director of business development and owner of Firefly Farms takes a look at what’s on the horizon for the energy industry and discusses how interactive media can help bring the picture into focus.

I am a small business owner, interactive marketing professional, capitalist, and committed environmental protectionist.

Over the last few months, these sometimes conflicting passions have led me to educate myself on an industry that touches our lives and wallets virtually every moment of every day: energy consumption. One of the big questions consumers are asking themselves is: “How can I ensure what I consume is locally and sustainably produced?”  Witness the resurgence in our local food markets.

Framing that question around energy consumption, I started to wonder how many of us as consumers even wonder where we derive the electric current that literally powers our lives.  (Is it generated from oil? coal? wind? nuclear reactors? natural gas? Where is it generated?  What is its impact on our environment?) How many of us don’t bother to ask the questions, and simply take for granted that the lights will go on and the devices will recharge?

Educating consumers online

The energy industry is a heady, politically-contentious sphere where long-held monopolies fight for survival and consumer behavior is hard to change.  As one of many Maryland business owners who recently testified in the Maryland State Legislature regarding proposed Marcellus Shale Drillinga.k.a. “fracking”I’ve witnessed this contention first-hand.

However, in many states these energy markets are actively being restructured to increase competition and consumer choice.  With active deregulation at work, residential and business alike need to understand our options and how to exercise the power of choice.

Energy companies and consumer organizations can help educate consumers (and promote responsible choices) through digital media. The Compete Coalition‘s website, for example, provides excellent information and resources about competition and consumer choice. Personally, I found the site very helpful in understanding these important efforts.

Any organization with a vested interest in energy competition would do well to create a robust online presence and social media strategy to connect with consumers.

Strength in numbers: energy pools

What’s going to drive competition and choice? Given today’s economic environment, price is going to be a huge factor. A growing number of energy buying groups are forming to “pool” together market demand and leverage that pooled demand to lower prices.  In western Maryland, our local chamber of commerce has formed exactly such a pool through a partnership with Premier Power Solutions.

Competition and choice can also be driven by other factors related to energy quality and environmental impact.  There are some exciting examples of this competitive dynamic.  First, energy consumers are starting to “pool” themselves in order to demand choice.  Washington, DC news radio station WTOP recently ran a piece that highlighted “more than 100 religious, community, labor and low-income housing groups in the Washington area (that) say they are joining forces to buy clean power and save money.”  Check out Groundswell.org for more information.

“Energy retailers” are also marketing cleaner energy choices to DC metro area businesses and consumers.  Clean Currents and Washington Gas Energy Service’s Clean Steps are just two examples of this trend.

Energy consumption: there’s an app for that (lots of them)

For their part, consumers are getting more serious about monitoring and controlling their own energy consumption. There are an increasing number of web and mobile apps that allow energy consumers to monitor and manage their usage.  These apps are based on new Smart Grid technologies.  And, according to DC-based OPower’s website: “they reinvent the way utilities interact with customers—from the quality of the information provided to the way it’s presented and delivered. It helps people use energy more efficiently and ultimately save money on their energy bills. And it vastly improves the overall customer experience by making energy use personally relevant.”

Take a look at Green Button Connect and Nest for home energy consumption monitoring.  On the global scene, check out the cool stuff our pioneering German friends are doing at GreenPocket.

And for you trendsetters with electric vehicles, check out Plugshare to locate charging stations and Springwise for apps monitoring electric vehicle consumption.

An energy prediction

Seth Godin’s Blog recently asked “will our energy consumption stay private?”  Will the choices about energy consumption made by brands and businesses be public?  Could they drive preference for brands that are making sustainable energy choices?

My sense is a resounding “yes.” Whether driven by our need to reduce our dependence on non-renewable, globally contentious oil resources – foreign oil especially – or, our need to reduce our carbon footprint and begin earnestly the fight against global climate change – my sense is brands will be looking to differentiate themselves actively based on their energy consumption choices.  And consumers will be looking for brands that reflect their own energy consumption values and priorities.

If you want to make leverage social media to better connect with businesses or consumer that share your energy consumption values or understand how mobile app technology can empower your energy customers, contact Innate.

[Photo credit: N@ncy N@nce, Flickr Creative Commons]

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