Unfortunately, the situation isn’t too unusual. Weather and other factors drive up electricity consumption and consumers – particularly those with low incomes – struggle to pay their bills.
According to a recent electricity industry survey, 1 in 8 American households with incomes of $50,000 or less received some type of payment assistance for utility bills in 2014. A larger percentage, 4 in 10, reported having trouble paying electric and heating bills “at least once in a while.”
There is, however, good news. The Pew Research Center reports that about half of Americans in households with incomes lower than $50,000 have smartphones. About half of the respondents in the recent electricity survey said they would be interested in a mobile app that provides information about cash or bill assistance programs, energy efficiency or conservation programs.
“The challenge is how to package information so that people find it useful, easy to use and practical to their daily lives,” said Nat Treadway, managing partner of DEFG, an energy-focused consulting firm that helped conduct the survey.
TXU Energy was one of the first Texas retailers to distill individual consumption information from smart meters in a free tool that customers can access via an Internet-connected computer or mobile devices. Through the TXU Energy MyEnergy DashboardSM and the company’s mobile apps, customers can review estimated current usage, compare past invoices, see how weather affects their consumption and get a projection of their upcoming invoices.
About 30 percent of frequent TXU Energy dashboard users say they have household incomes of $50,000 or less.
“The dashboard is one of the best tools I have to help customers see how outdoor temperature and other factors affect their consumption,” said Latona, a customer assistant specialist in the Office of the CEO-Social Media. “We then can do things like help them set up alerts so they know how much they are using and whether they appear headed toward an invoice that’s higher than any threshold they want to set.”
Latona said consumption and invoice concerns aren’t unusual, even in the winter when customers think they are using less electricity. That’s because heating systems that rely primarily on electricity – like baseboard strips and heat pumps – can consume tremendous amounts of electricity when outdoor temperatures are low.
According to ERCOT data, just less than half of Texas residents appear to have electric heating systems.
In addition to helping customers understand their usage, TXU Energy, its people and customers continue to invest in TXU Energy AidSM, the company’s signature bill-payment assistance program.
“We ensure that easy conservation ideas are available with the financial help from our TXU Energy Aid program,” said Kim Campbell, senior manager for customer advocacy at TXU Energy. “That empowers consumers to use less and use those savings to meet additional needs.”