When Ohio passed legislation in 2008 to become more energy efficient, utility companies like American Electric Power—one of the largest companies of its type in the country—were tasked with educating residents on how to save energy in their homes and workplaces. The solution was The Home Energy Savings Tour: Featuring gridSmart from AEP Ohio.
The tour combines two separate initiatives: educating consumers statewide on energy efficiency, and making the company’s 110,000 customers who receive its gridSmart service comfortable with the new technologies. GridSmart provides a series of technologically advanced products and services, like the smart meter (a digital version of the electric meter) that is wired to communicate real-time data to consumers and their utility company about how much electricity is being used and how much it’s costing. This new technology trades monthly statements for instant information to help consumers make smarter choices about how to run their homes and businesses more energy efficiently every day.
To put its plan in motion, AEP Ohio hired Dublin, OH-based Event Marketing Strategies to create a three-pronged program that includes an interactive display that visits family-oriented events like fairs and festivals, a smaller version of the display for home and garden shows and trade shows and a mobile vehicle exhibit catering to the 110,000 customers receiving gridSmart services.
“We realized that customers never thought of electricity as a product, something that they had control over, something that they could really focus on and use better,” says Terri Flora, director of communications at AEP Ohio, who handles the program. “We didn’t feel that educating them from just an advertising perspective was appropriate. We felt that having more personal time with customers on the tours allowed them to ask questions, see electricity in a different light and educate them in a way that they walked away saying ‘Wow, I didn’t know I can do that.’”
The original tour kicked off at the Ohio State Fair last July with a colorful 1,200 square-foot tent designed to look like a modern American home. It featured a maze made out of 50 fully refurbished and repainted bright blue, salmon pink, yellow and lime green refrigerators that the brand acquired during one of its Earth Day recycling initiatives. The best part is that the electronic educational exhibits (transmitted via flat-screen panels) are built into various parts of the refrigerators, like in the door or in the freezer.
The smaller version of the tour is meant mostly for indoor shows and features 12 to 14 refurbished refrigerators. In addition to the recycled fridges, the tours include other green touches like CFL lighting, evaporative swamp coolers used for refreshing the space and energy efficient propane fueled electric hybrid heaters to warm the area at colder events. And, the furnishings are mostly rented to avoid buying new materials. Both versions of the tour will run through 2011.
Once it’s built, the mobile vehicle will function like a science lab that educates consumers about gridSmart technologies at big retailers like Home Depot. The 40-foot motor coach will feature solar panels on its rooftop paired with a battery system and removable wind turbine to power its lighting and other low energy equipment. It will also have an efficient hybrid diesel battery generator as well as LED lighting and ecofriendly and recycled composite materials for exhibits, kiosks and finished surfaces.
“The inside of the mobile vehicle is designed to get customers familiar and comfortable with the technology that we’re putting in their homes and businesses,” says Flora. “This allows us to spend some time with customers touching and feeling the different parts of this project, so that they can express their concerns.” Now that’s an energy savings solution we can buy into. EM