[SGCC Q&A] Managing Customer Chaos

[SGCC Q&A] Managing Customer Chaos

By Jon Arnold, ETS16 Community Advocate

The voice of the consumer is vital as utilities modernize, and energy demand becomes increasingly driven by engaged customers. Digital technology is creating unprecedented opportunities for a dialogue to help shape the future, and few organizations understand that better than the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative. Patty Durand is SGCC’s Executive Director, and at ETS16, we’re looking forward to hearing how SGCC sees this opportunity unfolding. To help attendees get started now in thinking along these lines, here’s my recent Q&A with Patty.

With this year’s ETS theme being Transforming the Chaos, we know what that means for energy producers. What about consumers—do they have a sense of what this chaos is or how it impacts them? What kind of chaos are they experiencing now, and what else do you see coming?

It could be said that consumers and energy providers experience the same chaos, but from a different perspective. Energy providers are tasked with assuring the reliable delivery of electricity to millions of homes across the country, and consumers are responsible for paying for that service. Many consumers understand that their behavior, usage, and seasonal fluctuations will impact their bill, but they aren’t always sure to what extent.

The customer’s chaos is economic uncertainty, not knowing what their bill will be at the end of the month or where their energy is coming from. As the grid matures and an increasing number of energy providers make it easier to monitor home usage through new technologies and by providing customers with more choices, we are starting to see that chaos become managed. Energy providers are making the tools available, but we all need to work together to ensure that consumers are adopting them.

Technology is a common thread running throughout our agenda, and it touches every facet of smart grid as well as smart home. Do you feel consumers have embraced smart-home technology enough yet, and where would you like to see it go? 

SGCC research has shown that consumers can be segmented into various categories, grouping together like-minded individuals based on their values, attitudes and their propensity for smart energy management. Three of our five consumer segments have a propensity to use new smart home technologies to manage their energy usage, while there simultaneously exists a portion of the population who has no interest in these new technologies.

As time progresses, I believe we will begin to see a shift as today’s connected consumer continues to integrate new technologies into their life. Energy providers are continually making available new product and services that reduce the barriers to entry for smarter home energy management.

Consumer engagement is a key part of your focus and ours at ETS16. In what areas are utilities doing a good job, and where are they most lacking? To drive that, what SGCC initiatives for improving customer engagement does our audience need to know more about?

As the nation’s advanced metering infrastructure continues to expand—supported by more than 51 million smart meters—it’s time that we start focusing on all the cool things the modern grid has already enabled. Investments in smart grid technologies are empowering consumers to break the mold of passive consumption and become dynamic users, driving the conversation about “the next big things” in smart grid technologies.

Many energy providers have successfully engaged consumers, capitalizing on the Internet of Things to bring about a new generation of ever-changing energy consumers. SGCC forthcoming Empowered Consumer research will further define what consumers expect as the Grid of Things continues to evolve.

Part of consumer engagement will lead them away from carbon-based energy to renewables, and that can be a mixed blessing for utilities. We know consumers want to be more proactive with their energy choices and support sustainable options. What takeaways from your latest Consumer Voices research do utilities most need to pay attention to?

All of our research has shown us that consumers want to see their energy provider use less carbon based fuels and expand their renewable portfolio, but at no cost to them. Our Consumer Voices research has shown that consumers place a high intrinsic value on protecting the environment and reducing carbon emissions, second only to the price of their bill.

Concurrently, Consumer Voices also showed us that a subset of the population (primarily those early tech adopters discussed above) are willing to pay slightly more for their electricity when they know that it’s coming from a renewable source. That being said, energy providers must show that they are acting in the consumer’s best interest, increasing consumer trust and making use of their financial resources to expand upon their clean energy offerings.

As the energy sector transitions from legacy to digital technologies, it will be challenging to strike a happy medium between the needs of producers and consumers. SGCC is right in the middle of this, and to close, what’s the best thing you’d like to see happen now to get us closer to striking a good balance?

As the old saying goes, the key to any successful relationship is communication. As the ways in which we produce and consume energy are beginning to change, it’s important there exists a “dialogue” between consumers and energy providers. Energy providers must continue to communicate to their customers about the new programs and services they are offering (e.g., demand response, net metering, bring your own device) in an effort to show that they are acting in the consumer’s best interest.

Simultaneously, consumers must continue to communicate to their energy providers the things that they see as important, such as a cleaner energy mix as well as the integration of household energy management systems, EV charging, distributed energy resources, and pricing plans that better match their energy usage habits. Through ongoing, two-way communication, all things are possible.

SCGG will be appearing at Zpryme’s ETS16 event, March 29-31 in Austin, Texas. To learn more about the ETS16, please visit ets16.com or contact info@zpryme.com.

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