Big QuestionsOur work related to complex challenges.

The Challenge

Help customers better understand the relationship between energy consumption and resulting costs.


Clear Control participants accumulated no new debt and used 20 percent less electricity, reducing their bills by $200 per year.


Clear Control, an innovative pilot billing program.

Put food on the table or keep the furnace running on a frigid day? It’s an unfortunate choice many low-income families in Flint, Michigan, face.

To help customers in Flint and other Michigan towns stay on top of their utility bills and better understand the relationship between their energy consumption and the resulting costs, Consumers Energy partnered with IDEO and utility assistance provider The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW) to create an innovative pilot billing program called Clear Control in late 2013.

The pilot was designed with three major human-centered changes to the traditional utility experience:

  • Instead of monthly bills, participants received two bills per month. Shorter billing periods allowed for smaller, more frequent payments, helping customers match available funds with their ability to pay.

  • Daily text updates on energy usage and bill amounts kept consumption top of mind.

  • Consumers Energy offered personalized, in-home audits to help customers make low-cost, high-impact changes to their energy bills.

A year later, the results of the pilot are energizing. Clear Control participants accumulated no new debt, while the control group owed $300; pilot customers used 20 percent less electricity, reducing their bills by $200 per year; and 95 percent of participants paid their bills in full and on time, compared with 35 percent in the control group. The utility company simultaneously benefited by avoiding arrearages, late-payment fees, and shutoffs. Consumers plans to incorporate Clear Control lessons into its overall energy assistance program design and development moving forward.

"It’s no longer ‘me’ against ‘them’—now it’s ‘us,’" said one Clear Control participant.

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