As advanced information technology continues to permeate the power sector and the two-way data flow between utility and customer deepens, countless opportunities to streamline the delivery and consumption of electricity arise. Across the US, utilities are taking innovative approaches to fostering energy efficient behavior by working with customers to build sustainable practices, programs and business models.
The key is to use all available channels – including social networking – to engage customers with a simple message, you need to “keep [customers] informed and show [them] results,” Bill Andrew, President and CEO of the Delaware Electric Cooperative told audience members at last week’s DNV Kema Utility of the Future Leadership Forum in Washington DC.
Given the fact that 84% of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s customers are represented by municipalities or coops, Bob Balzar, Vice President of Energy Efficiency and Demand Response said the utility bears an economic development responsibility that can be served by helping customers consume energy more efficiently, saving money.
Knowing What Customers Want is Key
“Some people live in McMansions and have solar hot water heaters, while others live pay check to pay check and value savings the most,” said Elaina Ball, CPS Energy Vice President, Technical Services and Energy Solutions. Her company has a growing suite of programs to ensure all customers wants and needs are serviced.
Balzar sees a trend emerging in which customers will purchase electricity through a “block approach” similar to the way long distance phone service was traditionally sold, with people purchasing “X” minutes – or “X” kilowatt hours – for “X” price.
Robert Stewart, Senior Vice President, Customer Relationships at NV Energy said the Nevada utility now offers customers weekly smart phone updates with information about their bills. Panelists agreed that a more real time approach to consumption and billing helps make energy usage more tangible to customers, as opposed to receiving one large bill at the end of the month well after the electricity has been consumed and forgotten.
“Customers want to know about power outages and restoration times – they want to know about their bills and how to control them,” said Ball.
In discussing the best ways to inject innovative ideas into utility business models and operations, Balzar said it’s crucial to get younger people in their twenties and thirties on design teams. Andrew said his company gets customer ideas from employees.