Smart Irrigation Controller Technology - Pt. 3
Best practices and guidance on developing a pilot program
Running a pilot program for smart irrigation controllers can be an effective strategy for achieving your utility’s objectives. In the initial stages of pilot program development, the timeline is critical—planning should begin at least 3 months ahead of irrigation season, and the program should roll out well before peak season so that the smart controllers have time to adjust prior to periods of peak outdoor water usage. Planning the messaging, customer-targeting, and budget well ahead of crunch time will save you a lot of headaches. Common risks with offering just a rebate include:
Lack of installation
Irrigation system maintenance (e.g. neglected repairs that should be performed)
Rebate arbitrage (resell on eBay, Craigslist, etc.)
As a result of these risks, we’ve seen that rebates can fall short in fully transforming customer behavior due to lack of technical support on multiple levels. If a utility decides to promote a pilot program, we strongly advise partnering with a manufacturer to not only ensure irrigation controllers are properly installed by licensed professionals, but to also create a feedback loop between the customer, manufacturer, and utility. Coordinating with reputable manufacturers provides several advantages, including:
Proper installation—manufacturer ensures the Wi-Fi network is set up correctly and the unit is sufficiently grounded. From what we've seen over >25% of the installs required and Wi-Fi range extender
Technical support—manufacturers can address any questions at the time of installation and provide necessary support thereafter, so the utility does not have to deal directly with product-related issues
Customer communication—communication tools offered by the manufacturer can simplify enforcement messaging during drought restrictions
Data analytics—manufacturers can provide real-time customer behavior data allowing the utility to track and measure program performance more easily
By establishing a working relationship with the manufacturer, your utility can also stay in the loop when it comes to any questions or issues customers may be having. When you are kept up-to-date on customer-related issues, you can hold the manufacturer accountable for addressing these problems as they arise. This is extremely helpful because it will improve both program success and customer experience with the new technology.
Which customers should be you be targeting? As previously mentioned, best results will come from historically high-water users (HWU’s) who tend to apply more water to their landscape than what is needed. Affluent areas and commercial properties typically fall into the HWU category.
On the other hand, low-water users (LWU’s), those who typically under-water their landscape, can experience an increase in consumption after a smart irrigation controller is installed since their outdoor water usage adjusts to meet ideal water requirements. We’ve found from our experience as well as data collected from pilot-programs run by other utilities that early adopters to new technologies are typically more eco-conscious LWU’s. With this in mind, your pilot program should target as much participation by high-water use (HWU) customers as possible. Doing so will produce greater overall water savings associated with your pilot program.
As your utility looks to potentially expand its water conservation portfolio through a smart irrigation controller pilot program, this information is intended to provide direction and initiate dialogue within your conservation department. If you have additional questions, please reach out to us—we are more than happy to share our experiences and help get your initiative off the ground successfully.