Using Disney Storytelling to Engage Utility Customers

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A group of former Disney animators think they’ve found a key to engaging utility customers and motivating them to save energy—a fascinating concept worth watching.

Dean Schiller, CEO of CEIVA Energy, maker of the HomeView in-home energy management system, is a former Disney animator who says it’s all about engaging customers with storytelling. After all, that’s what he and his associates did at Disney.

“We were in Disney animation, and were responsible for all the technology that existed for creating feature film animation. The identity of that group is storytelling, and we’re bringing the same notion of storytelling to energy,” he says.

Schiller seems genuinely enthusiastic about his move from prince and princesses to kilowatt-hours and utility meters.

So let’s back up a minute. Of all his possible options, why did Schiller choose to apply his expertise to the energy field?

“We saw a huge investment in time and talent and money in building out the smart grid. Utilities were struggling with how to engage consumers. We felt we had consumers’ attention. We just had to take the technological infrastructure — the smart meters and data — and get it in front of consumers in ways that the consumer likes and changes their behavior,” says Schiller.

HomeView — which is acquired by the homeowner through partner utilities — tells stories with consumers’ photos and with utility data.

The unit shows the homeowners’ personal photos on its display — photos that can be sent to the display from anywhere in the world. They are rotated in the HomeView display, which is always on, says Schiller. The display often occupies prime real estate in a home — the kitchen or bedroom, he says. Along with the photos, HomeView intersperses information about energy usage.

“Our display looks into the meter throughout the day. It looks into the meter and mixes it among people’s pictures in a beautiful way,” says Schiller, whose company also works in digital picture frames.

For example, homeowners, whose eyes are often focused on the family photos on the display — may turn on the dishwasher and see how much their energy usage jumps, he says.

The company can also deliver demand response programs using the display, he says.

“Our core product is a storyteller. We take not just information from the consumer, but specific messages the utilities are trying to communicate, and put them in front of the consumer, ever so subtly,” he says. The company is now working with utilities San Diego Gas & Electric, Glendale Water & Power, Burbank Water  & Power — plus others — and is rolling out a program with National Grid.

And the results?

A survey of about 100 users found that 83 percent of them change their behavior as a result of being more aware of their energy usage.

“Our results are mirroring other studies: People like the energy information, they understand it and they want it,” says Schiller.

Tell a story, and make saving energy fun, says Schiller. Make it actionable and be sure to make it hassle-free.

Has CEIVA Energy uncovered the secret to getting people’s attention and motivating them to cut back on their energy usage? Tell us by joining the conversation in our LinkedIn group here: Energy Efficiency Markets Group On LinkedIn

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  1. The problem with the general utility company story is that unlike a Disney fantasy the utility is in business to make money and the more people cut back on energy usage the more they will be charged for the energy they use. If tomorrow, as an example, a given energy company’s user base cut back to using only half the energy the utility would still have most all of the costs associated with being a provider (capital costs, admin costs, transmission costs, grid costs, etc). Smart grid promotion is only smart for the utility and not the customer.

    • Charlie, that’s a fantastic argument for shifting to a cost structure where fixed costs are carried by fixed fees rather than variable supply. Break out delivery, and consumption.

      If I have a gas meter and use no gas, is it fair or smart to have cost structure where the neighbor bears the cost of my infrastructure (meter, piping, billing) through his consumption? Doesn’t seem so to me.

      Apply the costs where they belong and you avoid crazy perversity such as this:

      I believe that is the trend we are seeing. Fixed billing or “meter” charges in my area are $15-20 for electric and $20-25 for gas, where 20 years ago the billing for both might have been $3?


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