COVID-19 and Utilities: The Happy Hour opportunity

By Mirka Karra

Brand Journalist – NET2GRID

COVID-19 affected much of the traditional utility business during last year. On one hand, commercial energy usage has been negatively impacted due to lockdowns in various places around the world. The trend, on the other hand, has been offset by the notable increase in residential customer electricity demand.

In light of COVID-19, innovative utilities grabbed the opportunity to offer their customers Energy Happy Hours to help them optimize consumption and lower costs while staying at home for extended periods of time. One such example is Pinergy, a leading Irish utility company. Pinergy offers its customers reduced tariff plans also tailored to the COVID-19 reality such as 9-5 home office, evening family time and a ‘Drive Time’ plan for EV owners motivating them to charge their cars at specific times during the day.

enviaM’s Happy Hour

EnviaM, an E.ON daughter company in Germany, has also incorporated a Happy Hour feature in its iONA app , a user interface that allows customers to control their energy usage at home. With NET2GRID’s help, enviaM’s customers are notified of the upcoming ‘Happy Hour’ during which they only pay half for the electricity they consume. After the ‘Happy Hour’, customers are notified of their  ‘Happy Hour’ savings. The ‘Happy Hour’ has proven highly popular amongst enviaM’s customers.

What is also remarkable is the AI innovation behind the Happy Hour feature; a flexible tariff engine allocates different tariffs to individual appliances and/or in specific time of use slots. It thereby supports dynamic pricing and behavioural-steered load shifting.

Low tariff time slots appear on the screen so individual customers can plan ahead the use of their appliances. It also notifies customers on their smartphones when a low price event is coming up 3 hours and 10 minutes in advance.

In the enviaM case, the app calculates and presents the cost of consumption in each time interval, thereby allowing the user to see the actual prices being used and the money they have saved. enviaM itself can track the results of the service in a report detailing the cost savings their customers have accrued.

Home energy management companies over the globe have invested a great deal of expertise in developing AI models to provide solutions like Happy Hours, bringing utilities to the forefront of innovation and help them keep up with the increasing customer demand in a liberalizing and ever-competing energy market.

How does the Happy Hour work? 

An Energy Happy Hour which is a Time-of-use tariff, refers to time slots that utilities choose to offer at a reduced  price.

A smart meter makes it possible for end-users to access the time-of-use tariffs giving them more choices than the standard 24-hour tariff or a day/night tariff while an engaging user experience can notify them upfront when the energy price discount will happen. In fact, electricity suppliers can provide a specific electricity tariff every 15-30-60 minutes over the 24 hours of a day. Thereby, utilities can incentivize their customers to move their energy consumption, maximizing their energy efficiency to times when the load in the grid is lower and the corresponding price reduced.

Apart from offering new services that can attract new customers, this way the energy providers can better engage with their customers, encouraging behavioral load shifting and offering better prices at times of day when demand is lower to help better manage the grid.

The trend will become more and more prevalent in the years to come because of the volatility of renewable sources like wind or solar power and because the overall use of electricity will be further increased due to more use of EVs and smart home equipment.