Smart Project Needs Smarter Implementation

By Joaquim P. Menezes –



Updated on August 15 at 3:46 –

I had to waste a good deal of energy – and time – trying to sign up for this “smart energy conversation” program.

A few days ago I received a letter from my hydro supplier – Milton Hydro – describing what, on the face of it, seems like a cutting-edge Web-based home energy management system.

The initiative is being introduced on a test basis in the town of Milton, Ont.

Dubbed the Direct Energy Smart Home Energy Conservation Program, it’s being offered by Direct Energy and is based on the use of an Internet portal offered through Bell Canada.

The letter sent to me (signed by Don Thorne, president and CEO of Milton Hydro) briefly outlined how the program works.

From the letter – and a joint press release put out by Direct Energy, Milton Hydro and Bell Canada last month – I gleaned the following facts about the program:

    • A Smart-Home Energy Conservation system will be installed in qualifying participants’ homes at no cost, and they will also receive a programmable thermostat and several devices;


  • Equipped with these doodads, participants will be able to monitor energy usage in their homes in real time, and remotely control their home’s temperature, lighting and appliances – including lights, thermostats, electric hot water heaters and air conditioners – via a Web interface.



All that sounded pretty impressive, and is certainly leagues ahead of anything currently available in the province.

It also aligns with the province-wide move to get consumers develop “greener” habits, by encouraging them to use less energy during peak periods, when there’s greatest need for conservation – a mandate eloquently articulated by Peter Love, Ontario’s chief energy conservation officer, during an IBM event I covered a few months ago.

As a journalist, I thought my involvement would enable me to write – from firsthand experience – about a landmark project being launched in my own home town.

So I decided to sign on.

The letter sent to me provided two “sign on” options – either that I do it online by visiting a specified site or by calling a 1-866 number.

I opted to call the number, as I felt it would also give me an opportunity to ask some additional questions about the program.

My experience, when I did call, was disconcerting.

I was shuttled to three different persons, none of whom could either give me the information I sought, or sign me on.

The first agent asked me a bunch of questions to ascertain if I meet the qualifying criteria.

I answered all in the affirmative and thought the next step would be that she would sign me on.

No such luck.

Instead she asked me to visit the Web site to sign on. I was puzzled and asked whether:

a. She was not authorized to sign on qualifying participants;
b. If so, why was a number provided as a sign-on option in the letter sent to me, and presumably to other Milton Hydro customers;
c. Why go through the long-winded process of asking me all those “qualifying” questions if she knew she couldn’t sign me on at the end of it?

I got transferred to two other persons and each time had similar experiences.

The last person was from customer service, and was not even aware of the program I was talking about. She asked me thrice to repeat the name.

At the end of another long conversation that led nowhere she expressed regrets for the time I had to waste on the phone – but promised she would get me the information I sought – and get back to me.

My question to all those spearheading this project: if this initiative is all that it’s cracked up to be doesn’t it deserve better implementation?

Further developments

After I wrote up this blog, I sent a link to Don Thorne, Milton Hydro CEO.

He replied saying he agreed with me that “this initiative deserves better implementation, considering the sophistication of the organizations involved…” – and promised to follow up with Direct Energy.

That’s wonderful. And though there wasn’t a word of regret expressed in the letter for all the time I had wasted, I’ll even assume that was implied.

But as they say the “proof of the pudding…” And my problem remains unresolved.

I called yesterday to sign on. It didn’t happen.

It hasn’t happened yet.