Understanding Energy Customer Engagement: An interview with Hunter Albright of Tendril

Understanding Energy Customer Engagement: An interview with Hunter Albright of Tendril

Tendril is an energy services management solutions provider that applies behavioural energy efficiency programs, utility customer engagement initiatives and customer acquisition for things like community solar. The company is now using that model to create a library of energy-related content for markets where data access is limited or previously was not being harnessed to improve customer experience. 

The company recently announced a new suite of industry-focused marketing solutions that personalize customer experiences with insights from the way individuals consume energy. The first solutions in the new Tendril Energy Marketing suite, which use advanced energy data analytics and decision science to improve the marketing of energy products and services, are designed for electric and gas utilities and retail energy providers, distributed energy resource providers and real estate brokerages and search sites.

REM talked to Hunter Albright, Senior Vice-President of Tendril New Markets, to find out more about the company and what it is currently doing.

Tell me more about Tendril and what it does?

Tendril has been around since 2004. We have offices in Boulder and Denver, Colorado, as well as in Rotterdam and Melbourne, Australia. Tendril’s heritage was initially focused on the Internet of Things vision, mainly manufacturing hardware as well as software. However, over the years the company has sold off the hardware part of the business to really focus on software. In particular, software around supporting utility companies. A lot of the work that the platform and the software did and continues to do for utilities is to help them run energy efficiency programmes, behavioural demand response, especially in competitive markets. We continue to send out our offerings, for example to help support the acquisition of new customers, ongoing and continued engagement with the existing customers as well as the retention of existing customers. 

Over the years, we’ve built up expertise in understanding how to react to and with customers around energy and also building up analytics software to do that more effectively. We started having more conversations with other industries that had energy-related products and services, solar being a good one. Towards the end of 2014, SunPower became a strategic investor in Tendril and we started to work really closely with them about how we can use our analytics in software to help consumers understand the benefits of solar more effectively. 

So this is even before they buy, as they are going through their research and the sales process, and also with them about how, once people have made the decision to purchase solar, how they get the most out of it and how they engage with it, so that it becomes something they interact with and continue to understand the benefits that they get out of it. This is more tangible than a simple monthly or quarterly bill or statement email.

Who are your main customers?

All of our customers are clients with other businesses. We are very much a B2B2C type company. We predominantly focus on the utilities and that has been our initial and largest customer group to date, but we are rapidly extending into other industries. In our announcements and in our new solutions that we evolve, the two additional verticals that we are going into are renewable energy providers in general, but with an emphasis on, initially, rooftop solar companies. And then also to Real Estate industries. The linkage between those is really the consumers on the solar side, our emphasis being helping the solar companies acquire customers more effectively. One of the key pieces of technology that we have is a simulation model that allows us to simulate the energy consumption for any house in a given geography. We can do it for all 130 million homes in the US, and what that allows us to do is allow us to build a whole fleet of analytic and information and content on the back of that.

In the case of solar, that is to help our clients more effectively target customers, so they know which consumers would benefit and would be more likely to respond with interest in solar in mind. The other main thing we do is, because we have that simulation model, all the communications and marketing material that we’re able to assist with, can become very personalised. So, for a given address we can tell that person exactly what they can save, what their potential savings would be for their house, for the number of occupants in their home. This would be different from what their neighbours might be. We can do that by incorporating a number of different types of data, as well as different approaches. So, not only do we use the simulation model to forecast output, consumption and then the estimated benefits, cost and kilowatt hour benefits for the consumer, we also use satellite imagery to help us understand elements of the roof size in terms of how large a system size they can put on their roof and how efficient the unit would be generating depending on orientation of the roof and possible shading of the roof.

What are behavioural energy efficiency programmes and what is their main function?

Much of our technology was established and refined via the work that we do for utility companies around delivering energy efficiency programmes, behavioural energy efficiency programmes. Today we run the largest energy efficiency programs in the US for Duke Energy. We send out over 3 million home energy reports a month, and those really are linked up with a number of different additional plus points that we have. We also run a portal service for utilities, where consumers can log in and understand their energy consumption habits and profiles and also provide recommendations.

That programme has a number of different goals. First, it’s around helping energy consumers become more energy efficient and reduce overall consumption. Second goal is to help them become more aware around energy and have a greater understanding of how they consume. So another thing we provide is a view of how they use energy, aggregated across the most common uses of energy within a home, from an educational perspective. The third area is really around customer satisfaction. What we have found is that if you engage more effectively with consumers it improves their level of customer satisfaction and also helps to reduce the amount of time they call in to call-centres, so they’re more proactively educated to understand what to anticipate and understand the benefits of the services that are being provided.

What does the energy marketing suite involve and what does it contain?

On the back of the software and the analytics, we have built up a content library, a number of analytical tools and models that we are deploying not only for energy providers but also into the distributed energy space, for solar as well as into the Real Estate market. The key thing we are able to do here is that we are able to forecast for any address in a given geography. Very specifically, what that would mean for a Real Estate company is, for a company that doesn’t have any historical information or any utility bills for a given person, they can now start to use that energy information both from a consumption as well as for system recommendations that are personalised, to more effectively engage with their customers.

So, very specifically, on the Real Estate, we do a couple of things. We help provide scores on property pages so people can see how energy efficient their home is and what their estimated energy bill is. This allows customers in the Real Estate space to better compare a home they might want to purchase.

The second area is that we are able to provide an online assessment that will help somebody around the different things they could do to improve the energy efficiency of their home and even potentially add to the home’s value. This is of interest, and has been of interest, to both particular buyers of new homes, so that they might want to consider what improvements they could make before or shortly after moving into a new home, as well as Real Estate agents who work with sellers around what improvements they might want to make before selling their homes. There are an increasing number of studies that are coming out that show that making energy efficiency improvements and installing solar on homes can not only increase the value of a home but also increase the speed at which a home can be sold.

The third area we’re working with the Real Estate industry in general is that there is an ongoing desire to stay relevant and maintain a continued engagement with consumers and so after people have made a home transaction, we have a number of clients that are using our content to just go out and engage and provide helpful tips and recommendations to consumers, over an annual basis or over a season, that provide value over energy conservation or energy savings, recommendations, to continue to maintain their expertise and knowledge around the home.

How do you see demand for your services growing in the future?

We see demand growing very strongly. When we look at the market and the different types of company that we interact with, we think about it in terms of three general categories. Utilities providers, service providers – and when I say service providers, it might be a cable company in the US, alarm companies, companies that are providing more cloud-based and subscription services to consumers – and the third category is product companies. These might be SunPower or other solar panel provides and all three groups of people are very interested in energy-related products and services, not only selling them to consumers but also continuing to engage with consumers on a monthly subscription type basis.

In the US and in Europe and in other markets, there is greater competition for the consumers and also for the UK, and in fact I believe the UK is one of the leading markets in terms of a competitive energy perspective. So you guys in the UK are going to very familiar with the energy market in terms of the amount of competition and the growth in terms of a number of different providers that are providing that energy. So if you think about all those companies, they’re basically marketing companies. The software and analytics we have can really help them be more effective about who to target, who they want as their next energy customers. We’re thinking about what products and services can help them to grow that relationship and we can also help them, as I said earlier, think about retention of those customers, based on their usage and who they might be targeting in the future.

As we see the greater competition, we are having increasing conversations about how we can help people become more competition and solve some of the key challenges that they’re facing.

The only thing I would add is on the back of a study that King Fisher had done in the UK, which showed that the consumer’s interest, even from a DIY perspective, is very high up on the list in terms of energy and how to make energy improvements. We see that, from a purely consumer perspective, as having three primary purposes. One of these is around financials, especially in markets in Europe and markets where the cost of energy is higher than it is in the US and there is an interest in how they can cost and manage their bills, energy being the largest expense outside of mortgage repayments. The second is around comfort. How people can do things around energy to make their home more enjoyable and more comfortable. The third is from a more environmental awareness and King Fisher records in another report we’ve seen that this continues to inform a greater consumer interest in these areas. One of the issues for the industry in the past has been around how you make the content more personal, more relevant and more engaging for consumers so they can act on those things that help them with those goals.

That’s really what we’re helping the companies that we work with do. Take energy content and make it more engaging to consumers, provide more value for consumers and at the same time help our customers solve their product and commercial challenges that they face.

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