Big box electricity: Best Buy teams up with Constellation

Best Buy has launched a pilot program in Chicago that will enable customers to switch from their current electric utility to Constellation Energy right in the store -- and also will encourage them to buy smart thermostats and other energy-efficiency products.

Customers who sign on with Constellation at Best Buy receive a $50 Best Buy gift card for signing up for a two-year service agreement or a $25 gift card for a one-year service agreement. In conjunction with broad home-energy-management practices, Constellation claims to save customers from 18 percent to 22 percent over competitors in electricity prices.

"This pilot program with Best Buy combines Constellation's trusted brand among Illinois businesses with the growing demand by residential consumers for competitively priced home energy," said Michael Wajsgras, vice president of new business channel development for Constellation, in a statement.

The news is the latest sign that energy is becoming a big-box business. Home-improvement retailers Home Depot and Lowe's, for example, have partnered with solar suppliers to sell solar power in their stores. That trend could play a key role in bringing cleaner energy -- and energy efficiency -- to mainstream consumers, which could boost the market for those who make and sell those technologies. Via the economies of scale, a larger market could -- in turn -- further shrink prices, especially for large commercial and industrial buyers. 

Giving consumers a choice in their energy providers also was a key topic brought up by FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff at last week's VERGE DC event. Wellinghoff contends that allowing consumers to choose among multiple energy providers would help take advantage of the full benefits of the smart grid.

"[Consumers] should have the choice to participate in those wholesale grid activities that [other regional utilities can]," said Wellinghoff. The ability to get retail access to the grid in choosing their own energy providers could alllow consumers the right to sell negawatts and negawatt-hours back to the grid when they're generating their own energy.

Best Buy is increasingly targeting energy management and energy efficiency products. Late last year, the company began pilot testing home-energy-efficiency departments in San Carlos, Calif., Houston and Chicago late last year. Through these in-store departments, the company helps consumers navigate the growing suite of home energy management products and utility incentives. Customers in other parts of the country can also access the company's Online Learning Center at BestBuy.com to see virtual product demonstrations and take a self-assessment.

Best Buy teamed up with GE ecomagination last summer to market a slate of smart grid devices. One included a way to lower energy bills by reducing the voltage of electricity streaming into a house and a gadget to control AC based on room temperature and occupancy.

While there are no current plans to expand the pilot program between Best Buy and Constellation Energy beyond the one store in Chicago, it'll be interesting to see if other big-box retailers join in targeting consumer choice in utility markets.

Photo courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto via Shutterstock.com.