Connected Communities, Like EVs, Are Appealing to Those Who Experience Them
One of the top ad campaigns of all time is the iconic “Try It, you’ll like it!” message used by Alka-Seltzer in 1971 to promote its product for heartburn and upset stomach relief. This ad is now in the Clio Hall of Fame (Clio is the premier international awards competition for advertising and creative businesses.) This ad message—which became a catchphrase used on buttons, coffee mugs, and T-Shirts in the ‘70s—is based on a fundamental truth in product marketing: if a consumer personally experiences a great product, they are much more likely to buy it.
Many, if not most, consumers are unfamiliar with a number of electric products such as heat pumps and induction stoves. These and other products that run on electricity often have advantages that go well beyond cost savings and environmental benefits. Of particular note: they often improve customer satisfaction.
People who drive electric cars for the first time get excited about buying an electric vehicle. The constant, quiet comfort provided by a heat pump produces rave reviews from those who have the chance to experience it. Even top chefs are impressed by the performance of induction stoves.
Savvy proponents of beneficial electrification, like Southern Company, the second-largest energy utility company in the United States, are making it easy for consumers to experience great products—and they’re seeing great results.
“The ‘Try It, You’ll Like It,’ strategy we’re using in our ‘Smart Neighborhood’ projects are producing impressive results and has started to shift the market for both consumers and builders,” says Kenneth Shiver, Chief Economist at Southern Company. “A number of builders who were once skeptical about all electric homes are now saying they’re the only type of home they’ll build.”
“The Smart Neighborhood idea originally started as a research project to help us understand how our customers’ preferences for smart home technologies would likely evolve in the future,” said Alvis Wright, Marketing Programs and Support Manager for Southern subsidiary Alabama Power Company (APC). “But we quickly saw the opportunity to integrate deep energy efficiency and other technology upgrades in the design and construction of new all-electric homes. Then we brought in several partners who could give consumers the experience with these products, technologies, and homes.”
Homebuilder Signature Homes worked with Alabama Power to design Reynolds Landing, the first Smart Neighborhood in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover. The 62-home subdivision features the first community microgrid in the Southeast. Powered by a 420 kW DC solar array and featuring 852 kW of battery storage and a backup natural gas generator, the microgrid is intended to research and demonstrate islanding capabilities, output optimization, and grid resiliency.
The homes at Reynolds Landing are outfitted with induction cooktops, heat pumps for cooling and heating, triple pane windows, extra-tight building envelopes, efficient water heaters (either electric resistance or heat pump water heaters, and other energy efficiency features. Garages are equipped with two NEMA 220V sockets for electric vehicles. Smart thermostats and other home automation equipment are also installed.
“These are the kinds of features that a homebuyer rarely thinks of because they’re usually more concerned with countertops and floor plans,” said Wright. “By integrating these upgrades in the construction of an entire neighborhood, the upfront capital costs are reduced, and the homeowners experience lower energy costs and improved comfort.”
As soon as Reynolds Landing was completed in 2018, media coverage and word of mouth led other homebuilders to contact Wright and his team. As of January 2022, APC had five other Smart Neighborhoods with more than 180 homes in some phase of construction; and its homebuilder partnerships have expanded to include Holland Homes, Harris Doyle Homes, Curtis White Companies, and Porchlight LLC.
The potential loss of kWh sales from the ultra-efficient Smart Neighborhood homes can be offset by other values—such as capturing future electricity sales as homebuilders inspired by Smart Neighborhoods choose to go all-electric; cultivating the loyalty and appreciation of Smart Neighborhood homeowners; and leveraging smart home technology for demand response programs and Time-of-Use Rates, which can reduce APC’s peak generation costs.
“We’re providing them with the most up-to-date technology to save on energy costs and manage their energy usage,” said Wright. “And we’re accelerating the builders’ adoption curve for efficient electric heating, cooling, cooking, transportation, and other energy services.”
Other Southern Company subsidiaries are also developing Smart Neighborhoods along the same lines as Alabama Power. Georgia Power partnered with PulteGroup for Atlus at the Quarter, a 46 townhome smart neighborhood development, where each technology-enhanced home features distributed energy resources (DER), like rooftop solar installations as well as subsequent in-home battery power walls for both residual energy usage and backup energy storage. Research and Development (R&D) efforts are currently ongoing, with the focus on HVAC optimization, electrification, and the increased procurement and use of electric vehicles.
Southern Company’s “back to the future” marketing strategy is fueling confidence in product performance and producing benefits for consumers, builders, their communities, and the environment. In a way, their showcasing these smart beneficial electric technologies is a modern version of the old days in which new appliances – dishwashers, ovens, washers and dryers, etc. –in model homes and kitchens first changed and improved home life.
“We commend Southern Company and others for facilitating the consumer and builder experience with electric technologies,” says Keith Dennis, president of the Beneficial Electrification League. “They’ve exemplified a powerful marketing approach that we hope will be emulated elsewhere. We look forward to comparable programs that will give people the opportunity to drive an electric car, ride or drive an electric bus, operate an electric forklift, and test other electric equipment.
Beneficial Electrification: Try It, You’ll Like It. Beneficial electrification alleviates a lot of heartburn about pollution and economic distress.
More about Southern Company
Southern Company’s businesses include power generation and transmission, electricity and gas distribution, and fiber telecom. Southern is a pioneer in decarbonizing electricity. From 2007 through 2019, its power mix shifted from 69% coal and 1% renewables to 22% coal and 12% renewables. Looking ahead, the company plans to add more renewable power—balanced with gas power and energy storage—and increase its nuclear capacity and adapt emerging technologies to approach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Southern also stands out for its work on the demand side—making its distribution grids smarter; investing in microgrids, distributed energy resources, and storage; and ramping up efficiency and electrification. These and other innovations are powerfully integrated in the Smart Neighborhoods that Southern is co-sponsoring with homebuilders and their technology partner.