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Phone applications and other devices that help manage home energy use are growing in popularity, but accessibility to new grid technology remains a persistent problem.
A recent University of Chicago survey found racial and income gaps in awareness about smart meters, and most efficiency apps that help consumers manage their home energy use rely on data derived from these meters.
To solve this problem, the Chicago-based environmental nonprofit Delta Institute is launching Lumin, a mobile notification service designed to help Chicago customers manage their energy bill. It’s a new iteration of DeltaLumin, an online suite of consumer energy services.
“We are providing a service to low and moderate-income consumers to more flexibly pay their utility bill and gain easier access to subsidies,” said Kevin Dick, Delta Institute’s director. “They can unlock the benefits of the utility of the future — solar, incentive programs for energy efficiency, all of it. The current system is not set up for them.”
Dick, one of Midwest Energy News’ 40 under 40 winners in 2017, manages Delta’s energy strategy which includes overseeing its residential behavioral energy programs. The project was developed in 2014 through a partnership with IDEO, Faith in Place, and the Illinois Science & Energy Innovation Foundation, which also provides funding to Midwest Energy News.
Similar to most home energy apps—like ComEd’s, for example—Lumin pulls data from a user’s smart meter, but Dick says Lumin is different for a few reasons. First, Lumin is a messaging service and not a smart phone application. Users can interact with it through text message, Facebook, and other messaging apps.
Dick said the text message option opens up the application to users without smartphones.
Also, Lumin was developed with human-centered design, a process used by IDEO that includes a user into several stages of the design through surveys and workshops.
The Delta Institute facilitated a series of workshops with low-income residents to identify what Dick calls “pain points.” The group released a report last year which found that people needed better context about their bill – translating kilowatt-hours into dollars, for example— and flexibility in when they paid their bills.
Lumin is an attempt to improve the experience of users, and Dick said a lot of the problems with other efficiency applications is that they lacked an “action to follow it.”
With Lumin, consumers receive daily messages that tell them in dollars how much energy they consumed the day before, and are prompted to pay their bill with their mobile phone with what Dick calls a “flexible payment service.”
The service interfaces with digital payment services like PayPal and subsidy programs available for customers that fall behind on their bills. Dick is working on another potential perk: allowing customers to access these funds before they fall into arrears.
Last month, the Illinois Green Alliance recognized Lumin with its Emerald Award for green innovation. Delta hopes to officially launch Lumin by early 2019.