Bandera Electric Cooperative in Texas has created its own unique software and smartphone app that tells its members how much electricity they’re using at any given moment, which appliances are consuming the most power and how much it’s costing them.

Consumer-members can then see, in real time, how much money they’re saving if they shut off the swimming pool pump or adjust the heating or air-conditioning system.

“You can get immediate gratification by seeing what you’ve saved,” says Justin McKenzie, BEC’s vice president of energy services.

He is also vice president of Apolloware, the co-op’s trademarked software, which it sells to other co-ops and to investor-owned utilities. Apolloware is recognized as an energy measurement device by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, which loaned money to BEC to create energy savings programs for its members.

The co-op developed the Apolloware platform in 2017 to help solve a problem familiar to every electric cooperative. It came down to this simple question, McKenzie says: “How can we reduce the amount of phone calls we get about bills being too high?”

The answer, he says, is to empower members to make better-informed choices by understanding their energy usage and how they can control it at their homes and businesses.

Members who sign up for the Energy Saver Program receive an energy audit and access to Apolloware for $1,920 over 10 years, or $16 a month for 120 months. Participants are seeing an average savings on their electricity bills of $22 to $25 a month, McKenzie says.

The co-op sends an electrician to the member’s home to put a device into the breaker panel to capture the entire load coming into the meter and measure the total energy being consumed, he says.

More than 400 members have signed up for the program, and more than 300 upgrades have been made to members’ homes to help reduce energy costs, says Michelle Preston, the co-op’s manager of energy services.

Co-op member Susan Hays says she is constantly using the Apolloware app to monitor her electricity use for any anomalies.

“For me, everything is data-driven,” says Hays, a retired NATO employee. “It gives me the data so I can make informed decisions about whether or not something is cost-effective.”

The home energy audit performed by BEC as part of the program was quite thorough, Hays says, and led her to increase the insulation in her home, recaulk her fireplace and wrap her water heater in an insulation blanket.

“Every little bit helps,” she says.

Co-op employees can also use Apolloware to look up data to help members understand what may be driving up the cost of electricity for them, McKenzie says.

“I can take an angry 10-minute call and turn it into an educating two-minute call,” he says. “I can tell you that your biggest cost is your swimming pool pump, and you can decide whether it really needs to be running on a Tuesday when you’re at work. … Does your air-conditioning need to be at 68 degrees, or can you live with 72?”

The co-op can also use the data to determine if an appliance or HVAC system is not functioning properly. The co-op helps members finance new air conditioners and other appliances to increase energy efficiency and save money over the long run.

“Choose a vendor from our approved list, we’ll pay them, and you have 10-year financing on a new air conditioner,” McKenzie says. The co-op charges a 5% program fee with no compound interest and the loan can be paid off early without penalty.

In addition to reducing calls to the co-op’s member services department, Apolloware helps “create a stronger relationship between the co-op and the member,” McKenzie says.

“We’re empowering the customer to make the right decision based on what’s best for them,” he says. “In a traditional demand-response program, the utility has an override switch, and there’s always some angst between the utility and the member. We don’t have that angst anymore.”

The co-op, which serves nearly 38,000 members, has so far sold the Apolloware system to 15 utilities in Texas, including nine co-ops, McKenzie says. BEC is currently talking to co-ops on the East Coast and in the South that have expressed interest.

By helping members save energy, the co-op also reduces its costs by shaving peak demand, he says. BEC hasn’t had to increase its rates since 2013.

“If we can help a member buy an efficient heat pump system, and we do that across 1,000 homes, the impact to the whole will be great,” McKenzie says. “Everyone will benefit.”

Does your small or medium-sized co-op have an innovative program or unique solution to share? Send Thinking Big ideas to Erin Kelly at