[ETS16 Primer] Humans: Bringing the Personal Touch to Energy

[ETS16 Primer] Humans: Bringing the Personal Touch to Energy

By Jon Arnold, ETS16 Community Advocate and Zpryme Advisor

Advanced technology is a critical topic at ETS16, and there’s a temptation to view everything through a technology lens as we try to engineer solutions for dealing with the massive changes going on in the energy industry. However, technology will only take us so far, and at ETS16 we’ll be exploring the human as the most critical component of true transformation.

In our four-part article series, we’ve talked about three key areas of TECH—Transformation, Emergence and Convergence—and now we’re at the final, most important element: Humans.

Humans have a central role in the design, creation, use, and benefit from the new energy era that is currently afoot. To provide a high-level sense of role of humans, I’ve tapped some data from Zpryme’s Chaos Index Survey, along with four different voices: Direct Energy’s Bethany Ruhe, Asha Lab’s Seyi Fabode, and Zpryme’s Christine Richards and Erin Hardick.

Humans as energy customers

Humans are integral to both the supply and demand side of the equation, but first and foremost, we’re all energy customers. “As much as a child in El Paso needs power for food and doing his or her homework, so does a child in Kinshasa (the Congo). There is a common need and shared responsibility for providing this sustainability,” said Seyi Fabode, Partner, Asha Labs.

As Millennials rapidly become energy consumers, we’re seeing a fundamental shift in not just energy consumption patterns, but also in their relationships with energy providers. “Students today want to be an active part of creating clean renewable energy,” said Erin Hardick, Zpryme intern. “We are the next generation of consumers, and educating us on safe, reliable consumption practices is an important job for the energy industry.”

Technology will certainly play a role in educating consumers, but the real power comes from relating to customers on a more human level. By understanding their needs and supporting what’s important to them, the chaos facing utilities will become more manageable.

“Consumers want to control their whole lives from their smart phones, and that includes their energy—and that ability makes being energy efficient easier,” said Bethany Ruhe, Director, External Relations, Direct Energy. “They will no longer settle for an energy bill that is just an amount—it’s like having the ingredients listed on the food that you buy. Consumers want to know what they’re getting, so they can make better choices. The conversation used to be ‘how do we move beyond being a line item on the bill,” but now it’s about giving our customers an energy experience.”

There is certainly value in providing consumers with the right technologies to play their part—but much more needs to be done.

“We really need to understand what drives customers to adopt advanced technologies and change their behaviors,” said H. Christine Richards, Research Director, Zpryme. “We also need to be okay with the fact that energy is critical for modern society, but that it may not be at the forefront of customers’ minds all of the time. This is where technology can step in to help automate energy management for customers, but we still have to have those right incentives in place to help drive changes in consumer behavior.”

Humans as energy personnel

The rise of Millennials also means that the employment ranks within the energy sector will become younger and more culturally diverse. Our Chaos Index asked what the impact of this change will be on energy providers, and the clear majority— 67.5 percent—said it will be positive. Utilities’ human capital is at risk if they don’t replace retiring personnel with new hires that can leverage today’s technology for the mutual benefit of energy producers and consumers.

“The energy industry is poised for significant change, and technology and complex systems will become the norm,” said Richards. “Every position will have a technology aspect to it, from augmented reality for line crews to machine learning for customer service. We’re going to need a great batch of kids who are excited to figure it all out.”

Utility cultures are changing very rapidly right now, and the turnover is dizzying. Not only will new staff have more productive relationships with customers because of the very nature of markets and offerings today, but by helping consumers better manage their energy, utilities will benefit from improved operations and resource utilization.

Nature may provide the raw materials, but we need humans to convert that into the energy that makes all forms of modern living possible. At ETS16, you’ll learn more about the important role humans are playing in Transforming the Chaos in the energy industry, and building new  models for energy production and consumption.

We’d love to have you participate in the discussions taking place at ETS16, March 29-31 in Austin, Texas. Learn more about the event here.

We’d also love your participation in the first Chaos Index survey. We want to hear from you about how all this industry change looks from your perspective. Take the survey here.

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