Using Disney Storytelling to Engage Utility Customers

Jan. 17, 2014
A group of former Disney animators are applying their expertise to the energy efficiency business, using storytelling and imagery to engage utility customers. Dean Schiller, CEO of CEIVA Energy, maker of the HomeView in-home energy management system, says it’s all about engaging customers with storytelling. A recent study found that 83 percent of customers like getting utility data combined through the HomeView display.

A group of former Disney animators think they’ve found a key to engaging utility customers and motivating them to save energy—a fascinating concept worth watching.

Dean Schiller, CEO of CEIVA Energy, maker of the HomeView in-home energy management system, is a former Disney animator who says it’s all about engaging customers with storytelling. After all, that’s what he and his associates did at Disney.

“We were in Disney animation, and were responsible for all the technology that existed for creating feature film animation. The identity of that group is storytelling, and we’re bringing the same notion of storytelling to energy,” he says.

Schiller seems genuinely enthusiastic about his move from prince and princesses to kilowatt-hours and utility meters.

So let’s back up a minute. Of all his possible options, why did Schiller choose to apply his expertise to the energy field?

“We saw a huge investment in time and talent and money in building out the smart grid. Utilities were struggling with how to engage consumers. We felt we had consumers’ attention. We just had to take the technological infrastructure — the smart meters and data — and get it in front of consumers in ways that the consumer likes and changes their behavior,” says Schiller.

HomeView — which is acquired by the homeowner through partner utilities — tells stories with consumers’ photos and with utility data.

The unit shows the homeowners’ personal photos on its display — photos that can be sent to the display from anywhere in the world. They are rotated in the HomeView display, which is always on, says Schiller. The display often occupies prime real estate in a home — the kitchen or bedroom, he says. Along with the photos, HomeView intersperses information about energy usage.

“Our display looks into the meter throughout the day. It looks into the meter and mixes it among people’s pictures in a beautiful way,” says Schiller, whose company also works in digital picture frames.

For example, homeowners, whose eyes are often focused on the family photos on the display — may turn on the dishwasher and see how much their energy usage jumps, he says.

The company can also deliver demand response programs using the display, he says.

“Our core product is a storyteller. We take not just information from the consumer, but specific messages the utilities are trying to communicate, and put them in front of the consumer, ever so subtly,” he says. The company is now working with utilities San Diego Gas & Electric, Glendale Water & Power, Burbank Water  & Power — plus others — and is rolling out a program with National Grid.

And the results?

A survey of about 100 users found that 83 percent of them change their behavior as a result of being more aware of their energy usage.

“Our results are mirroring other studies: People like the energy information, they understand it and they want it,” says Schiller.

Tell a story, and make saving energy fun, says Schiller. Make it actionable and be sure to make it hassle-free.

Has CEIVA Energy uncovered the secret to getting people’s attention and motivating them to cut back on their energy usage? Tell us by joining the conversation in our LinkedIn group here: Energy Efficiency Markets Group On LinkedIn

About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

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