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SAN FRANCISCO, June 27, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Software designed by Nexant, Smarter Grid Solutions, and GreenSyncare coordinating to create the world's most advanced electricity network management and control system. UK Power Networks supplies electricity to more than 8.3 million homes and businesses and is Great Britain's largest electricity distributor.
Through this combined software solution, UK Power Networks and its customers will receive the following benefits:
More Renewable Energy—Distributed energy resources (DERs) including solar, wind, and energy storage devices will be connected to the grid faster and at less cost, generating enough power for 250,000 homes.
Infrastructure Savings—Reducing the time to connect DERs will reduce the need to upgrade infrastructure and save money. The solution will defer other network upgrades and costs by shifting localized peak demand and providing power during planned and unplanned outages.
Efficiency and Safety—Artificial intelligence will be used to process big data and determine safe and efficient ways to run the network.
Innovative Control Schemes---The network can be seen from a complete view, providing perspective to make complex decisions and set autonomous processes that will optimize available power.
Real-time Control—The network will be able to handle and dispatch services for events such as DER non-compliance and communications failure.
Flexibility—Giving customers expedited flexible connections, enabling more solar and wind installations.
Big Platform Potential—Unlimited smart grid applications and emerging technologies can be applied to the platform, allowing the possibility for more insights via machine learning, AI, and big data analysis.
As part of the integrated platform, Smarter Grid Solutions' ANM Strata will allow UK Power Networks to smoothly make the transition to an active distribution system operator. Nexant is supplying the control center and planning analytics via Grid360 and a public-facing market interface through iEnergy. GreenSync's deX product is incorporated to provide a distributed energy marketplace.
Bob Currie, Chief Technology Officer at Glasgow-based SGS, said, "This is a watershed moment for the management of distribution networks and DERs. We are delighted to work with UK Power Networks to deliver flexibility services markets and innovative control schemes across its license areas to enable clean and distributed energy resources to connect to the grid and realize their full value."
John Dirkman, Vice President of Product Management at Nexant, said, "This cutting edge project broadly enables and revolutionizes decarbonization via electrification, distributed generation, demand response, and energy storage. It's a perfect example of how best-in-class applications can be combined to provide tremendous value to utilities around the world."
Nexant is a premier provider of technology enabled solutions to the Utility and Energy Industry focused on the next generation intelligent grid, distributed energy resources, and the digital customer experience. Nexant's clients include over 200 utility and software services customers and works with over 300 chemical and petroleum majors, financial institutions, and Fortune 500 companies.
About Smarter Grid Solutions
Smarter Grid Solutions (SGS) is a leading provider of distributed resource management system (DERMS) software with over 300 MW of generation and load under real-time control. With offices in New York, Glasgow and London, SGS is a global solutions provider to distribution utilities, distribution network operators and distributed energy resource providers.
About UK Power Networks
UK Power Networks is the country's biggest electricity distributor, making sure the lights stay on for more than eight million homes and businesses across London, the South East and the East of England.
UK Power Networks is committed to providing excellent service to the over 18 million people who use their network every day. The company invests more than £600 million in its electricity networks every year, offers extra help to vulnerable customers at times of need, and is undertaking trials to ensure that electricity networks support the transition to a low carbon future.
In June, UK Power Networks won the 2019 EEI International Edison Award at a ceremony in Philadelphia, United States, for its part in enabling Britain's low carbon transition. The award is billed as the electric power industry's most prestigious honor and the winner is chosen by a panel of former energy company chief executives.
New distributed energy resource technologies and changing customer expectations have created opportunities for growth in the demand side management (DSM) market. Demand response (DR) and energy efficiency programs are an important component in meeting changing regulatory requirements, supporting distributed generation, and delivering new business models and revenue streams. Between 2019 and 2028, Navigant Research expects market growth of DR and energy efficiency programs worldwide; integrated DSM will also generate operational and capital savings for program providers in more mature markets.
Growth in DSM is expected to take place in all regions of the world, with deeper savings in mature markets and new market share in regions with less program penetration. The integration of more intermittent renewables in specific regions is anticipated to look to DSM programs to provide local peak management and load shifting capabilities to the grid. Developments in more efficient, intelligent hardware and program management software are expected to offer streams of data that can be used to optimize both commercial and industrial (C&I) and residential energy ecosystems. Edge computing and data analytics will speed rates of actionable insights for program providers.
This Navigant Research report provides a high level examination of the global DSM market in five major geographic regions: North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East & Africa. The study provides an analysis of market trends, including the drivers and barriers associated with global DSM development. Global market forecasts for electric DSM capacity, sites, and spending are segmented by region and extend through 2028. The report also examines technology issues and key industry players.
In this week’s UtilityXpert roundup, we chat with Brett Bishop of Build it Green , Build It Green (BIG), an environmental nonprofit based in Oakland, California with a mission to create a world of healthy and sustainable home for all people. They are pioneering how homes are built and renovated in California and beyond.
In this article, we’ll talk about Brett’s experience helping energy providers implement sustainable, effective EE programs. Brett has a wealth of experience and his passion really comes through when discussing some of the industry’s most challenge issues, including aggressive energy targets, as well as implementation tactics.
1 You've had a variety of experience designing and implementing all different types of EE programs. Tell us about your approach at the beginning to ensure a holistic plan is built.
We are passionate about bringing innovation to the market and inspired to support consumers, professionals, private companies, and public agencies to achieve the greatest impact. We mainly focus on three goals:
Driving deep reductions in carbon emissions by connecting more homes to clean power and advanced energy technologies
Creating a real estate market that recognizes the value of these homes and ensuring that these benefits are accessible and affordable to all communities
Creating healthy and sustainable homes for people in low-income communities.
All these approaches combine for a holistic plan because having these specific goals in mind makes it easier to achieve and track our successes in our various programs.
2 Tell us about the different nuances of implementing different programs in different communities?
It really comes down to knowing what the community we are trying to help needs from multiple perspectives. For instance for our Cool Savers program, the first Pay-for-Performance programs of its kind, we really wanted the focus on customers that want to save more energy! That’s what it’s structured to emphasize, that’s why participants become a stakeholder in the success of the program, and that’s why we added the Cool Rewards bonus system to the program, which allows participants to earn cash bonuses for being a deep energy saver.
(Cool Savers participants who save the most energy over a 12-month period are eligible for a bonus incentive up to $1,000.)
With our Healthy Home Connect program, we structured the program to leverage multiple funding sources to deliver energy and healthy home upgrades simultaneously to benefit California’s most vulnerable or disadvantaged communities, with both energy burden and regional air pollution being factored from the outset.
The Healthy Home Connect (HHC) program has successfully expanded into new communities, thanks to generous funding from our partners like Peninsula Clean Energy and private equities such as Facebook, Inc. BIG is delivering health and energy upgrades to families faced with hardships in the Belle Haven community, and Menlo Park near Facebook’s HQ. These homes would otherwise not benefit from existing energy efficiency programs because they needed much more basic repairs first. For example, one home had their entire ceiling removed in the hallway, completely open to the attic space, all year round! She was over eighty years old and clearly needed more than just LED light bulbs and faucet aerators. Typically, program administrators are unaware of such egregious conditions because there is no budget for measures outside of demand reduction or they choose not to get close to the work.
There is a strong link between health and energy efficiency in homes: energy upgrades often provide health co-benefits and we are working to unlock both of these benefits homeowners.
Housing services are often siloed and delivered to meet program performance metrics alone. Energy efficiency and weatherization programs do not address home health conditions, which are often closely related. Furthermore, many homes are disqualified from receiving energy efficiency and solar PV improvements because of existing conditions in the home, such as mould, moisture, unsafe HVAC systems leaking carbon monoxide, or dilapidated roofs.
The result is that some of the most vulnerable families are left behind and must live in homes that exacerbate asthma and other health conditions, as well as homes that are inefficient with high utility bills, contributing to displacement and the affordable housing crisis. Healthy Home Connect addresses these problems by combining public funding sources with private philanthropy and delivering health and energy efficiency together, intentionally. Exactly like everything else in the efficiency field, it demands a conscientious front side to each project and detailed project management.
BIG also worked closely with their local, like-minded, non-profit builder/partner El-Concilio of San Mateo, to establish relationships, trust within the community, and help fulfill the work and mission of the Program.
3 How do you approach getting buy-in for your recommendations at every step of the implementation process (ex. IT teams, DSM teams)?
The billion dollar question! Ultimately, it is about having the right team lined up around a future state. Which begins with the client, their objectives, and design constraints. Once these conditions have been identified and communicated market analysis drives the conversation. Build It Green is always conscientious to bring our workforce into this part of the design process; ultimately, if the market does not buy into your value proposition you are going to have a difficult time getting your program off the ground.
Once the interventions are established as to technologies and engagement platforms, the marketing team can begin designing a narrative that is relatable. As with any organization, having the right team on your side is key. Having a team that is aligned with the vision of the company’s core objectives results in an effort that communicates consistency across different departments and specializations. To steal a phrase from the sports world, it’s about “building your bench” which has to begin long before a project is even dreamed of.
4 California has lofty energy efficiency savings targets for 2030. How will it get there?
We have visions for 2030 that are aggressive, it's true, 2045 is even more so with a target for net carbon neutrality across our entire economy. It’s going to be a large effort with a lot of stakeholders and factors that are dynamic. One example that illustrates this well is California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, our grid is more and more decarbonized with every passing year, so energy storage and shifting consumption to times of the day when the sun is producing our power are a big part of shifting the economy away from dependence on fossil fuels.
Energy Efficiency is crucial to the effectiveness of these efforts because if consumption of energy is unchecked, then the cost to produce the energy tracks the demand curve. Think of it on a smaller scale, a house that is efficient may need twenty solar panels; the same home without efficiency measures may need thirty panels to achieve an energy bill of zero. Less is definitely more. One phrase I really enjoy it, “the cheapest electron is the one you don’t use.”
I think the biggest challenge is going to be psychological. People are attached to their habits and don’t necessarily perceive them as such. One example of this is induction cooking. The technology has far superior performance compared to gas. I love cooking a lot and eating good food even more! It took me a while to get to a place where I could install an induction rage because my home is older and was set up for gas, but once I got it done I found was that I had a much greater level of control over temperature and everything heats up dramatically faster. It’s super nice, easy to clean, it performs better, and doesn’t put exhaust into my kitchen. Going back would feel like making dinner in the garage with the door closed and the car running! But until consciousness around these shifts, people will be espoused to antiquated technology.
All that circles back to decarbonization because utilizing renewables effectively is dependent on multiple systems like space and water heating, cooking, laundry, etc. Efficiency allows us to do the same things as we were doing before, hopefully, better, while consuming fewer resources. That’s the value proposition we need to convey, “your quality of life will improve if you get with the program,” otherwise there’s no reason to do anything different than you did yesterday. The horse and carriage were replaced with the car, the landline replaced with cellular, we have superior and sustainable technologies today, so the question is not if, but how, and by when. That’s where California is rightly focusing today.
Encouraging homeowners to make retrofits when they aren't thinking about them is difficult. What could be easier is doing so when energy efficiency (EE) is top-of-mind for them.
The question is: "When are people thinking about energy efficiency?".
The answer? When they are moving into a new home.
In fact, USA Today rates “Improving energy efficiency” as the number one upgrade you can make to increase the value of your home. For example, a Remodeling.com survey found that homeowners could recoup 116% of the costs of attic insulation.
Homeowners are increasingly aware that HVAC, water heaters and window upgrades are cost-effective changes that provide a solid ROI when it comes time to move or sell.
Despite this interest, this is an issue for utilities. Even if people are willing to make energy efficient upgrades, this does not eliminate the big problem of free ridership rate among their customer base. Free ridership, is of course, the degree to which energy efficiency program participants take incentives for projects which would have been done with or without the program.
Getting more program participation while reducing free ridership rate. In fact, on their own, they are both issues that the utility world has not seemed to figure out yet. Of course, for some states, there’s less of an emphasis on free ridership, but the fact remains that utilities must get their customers to participate in energy efficiency programs.
So, how can utilities get more people to make energy efficient retrofits, while actually showing that they influenced those decisions?
Answer: By targeting homeowners who are likely to move or sell their home!
These homeowners are the perfect candidates for EE programming. Why? They recently bought a new house, and want to ensure their new asset is as valuable as possible. Their family is moving in, and they want to sure its comfort and livability.
A disgruntled homeowner who's used to what they're living in? Not happy when you tell them about a $2,500 HVAC incentive.
A new homeowner who's told about a free Smart Thermostat? They'll be thanking you, because that’s could raise the value of their asset.
There are a plethora of ways utility program managers may be able to do this, and some of them are listed below:
Digital Marketing: Online platforms such as Facebook and Google allow you to show your ads to specific people who are in your likely range of people who want to move. With Facebook, you can actually use Interest targeting and ask Facebook to show your ads to people who are most likely to be moving. The ad might say something like, “Selling your home or moving? Learn how a new HVAC can increase your home property value by XX%!”
A message like this would really resonate with the homeowner who is moving or selling their home.
Surveys and Direct Mail: Another way of knowing what your customers are doing? Ask them!
Short online surveys done via SurveyMonkey, or paper mail ones are an easy, effective way of figuring out which of your customers are moving, or not. You know that any customers that identifies that they may be thinking of moving would likely be interested in energy efficiency retrofits. Therefore, these individuals would be great candidates for marketing efforts down the line.
The drawback of this method? It is rather time consuming, low-tech and sometimes, people just don’t want to be bothered.
Implementing New-Age Software-As-a-Service (SaaS) Products: SaaS. It's not as complicated as it sounds. People have long dismissed utility engagement tactics as dated and low-tech, but that is simply no longer the case. Technology solutions such as MyEnergyXpert are able to take data science and AI, and integrate them with online platforms to identify homes that are ripe for participation.
The technology exists where people will now be able to target homeowners who are most likely to enrol and when they want to enrol.
Utility program managers can now look like geniuses - people are participating because of them, and they can easily track why and how.
It's time to flip the script on utility customer engagement for energy efficiency programs.
Sending customers 50-page unwanted home energy reports? There's no need.
Dealing with contractors for complicated home audits? Forget about that. Wasting marketing and customer care budget on campaigns that won't work? Those days are over.
Giving customers personalized recommendations right when they need it? Sign them, and us, up.
In this week’s UtilityXpert Roundup, Entergy’s VP declares that grid changes are needed, and only IoT and advanced data analytics can help us along. Elsewhere, EE programs are improving all across the nation, green power is in demand, and Dominion keeps one of their major projects going. As usual, it’s been a busy week in the utility world.
Delivering electricity to 2.9 million customers in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas, Entergy is implementing advanced data analytics and internet-of-things technology across all its divisions. This article features a sit down with Entergy VP, Raiford Smith.
Utility programs are a valuable and growing resource to the affordable housing community. According to ACEEE’s 2018 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, utilities across the U.S. dedicated $7.9 billion to energy efficiency programs in 2017 alone. Likewise, utility investments designated for affordable multifamily programs have grown significantly over the past five years, and the gap between affordable multifamily’s share of the residential market and their share of utility residential investment is beginning to close in many states.
Dominion's deal with Eversource and United Illuminating puts an end to speculation over Connecticut's sole nuclear plant, which the company had said would close if it did not secure a contract by today, March 15.
The 10 year deal will cover 9 million MWh of output annually, more than half of the plant's annual output of about 16.5 million MWh. Connecticut regulators selected the rest of Millstone's output as part of a clean energy solicitation last year.
A new high efficiency, ultra-low emissions commercial water heating and space cooling unit, which begins field demonstrations at two Southern California restaurants this week, could dish out energy savings, lower operating costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions for foodservice and hospitality facility operators.
That’s according to Stone Mountain Technologies, Inc. (SMTI), maker of the new technology, which uses a thermally driven heat pump fuelled by natural gas or propane to capture ambient energy, achieving a heating efficiency of 140% or greater. It is projected to reduce energy use by 30 to 50% compared to standard natural gas water heaters. The highly-efficient heat pump also provides space cooling simultaneously, which reduces the need for air conditioning and can help lessen electricity use.
In the UtilityXpert roundups, we typically find the industry’s best news and share it among our audience. This week ask industry experts and thought leaders a few questions and heard their answers on what should drive the utility industry forward.
We’re all busy and want quick reads that give us interesting and actionable things to think about so we’re keep it simple – two questions, two unique answers.
Our first instalment comes from a veteran marketer with over 25 years of experience marketing everything from fast cars, to rock n’ roll, to helping rebuild one of the largest online retailers in the world. His energy sector pedigree is equally impressive.
We invited Jason Turner, Co-Founder of ID Lab, one of the energy sector’s fastest growing marketing and strategy agencies, to kick off our UtilityXpert series.
He’ll be talking about the challenges of marketing for, and with utilities. Here’s what he had to say.
Often, utility marketing and communications is thought of as being far behind other sectors. They compare utilities to consumer products and services companies in the private sector and admonishing the utilities and citing their insufficient use of technology. Why do you think that is?
This perception of utilities is untrue and, in many cases, naive. Too often I hear ill-informed analysts labeling utilities as uncaring, unskilled or lacking innovation when it comes to marketing and communications. For the vast majority of the utilities ID Lab works with this is simply not the case.
Here’s the reality…utility marketers and communicators are trying to get by with what they have. It’s true most utilities lack the marketing technologies needed to effectively compete in what’s becoming a fast moving and competitive market (this market change is new for utilities) – this is undeniable and for the utility marketing and communications departments it’s very frustrating. They know there are better technologies out there, like EnergyX, that could make a world of difference to their marketing efforts. They want to innovate, they want to better target their customers and they want to be more efficient with their marketing spends. They get it and know the path they need to take. However, they have some big obstacles. Some of the biggest obstacles we regularly see at ID are:
IT Support/Capacity: Utilities are notoriously understaffed in IT. Asking IT to implement a new integrated marketing tool takes 1 to 3 years (optimistically).
Budget: Regulators of all types across the country are squeezing and scrutinizing how utilities use ratepayer dollars. Regulators often don’t understand what it truly takes from marketing and communications to motivate customers to save energy and change their behavior help to improve the utilities’ overall cost effectiveness so they are making spending on marketing technologies excessively difficult. Because of this regulator limitation, and other budgetary issues, marketing and communications departments struggle to get the funding they need to engage the technologies that will enable them to the job they know they need to do.
Implementers: Most utilities give the bulk of their program/product/service marketing to implementers and hope that the implementers are using the latest tools and techniques to effectively market on their behalf. Because the utilities are getting their budgets squeezed they, in turn, squeeze implementers which limits the implementer’s budget to spend on the latest tools and technologies. It’s a tough circle that both of them have gotten locked into.
Can these issues be overcome and, if so, how?
There’s no denying that everyone involved is currently in a, what seems to be, perpetual cycle that leaves everyone stuck with the dated status quo.
The good news is that there is a way out for most utilities: deploy SaaS-based tools. Specifically, SaaS marketing and targeting tools that are easily shared and managed across internal and external marketing teams.
I recognize the implications of what I’m saying, and I know that many of those reading this will immediately jump to obstacles like security, customer data privacy, legacy systems, IT department capacity, budget and a host of other obstacles. They are all, somewhat, legitimate but not insurmountable and quite frankly, inaction is not an option. We see the mounting competitive pressure on utilities and we also see that customers are becoming more disenchanted with utilities because most other companies are engaging them so much better than utilities can. Because we did s a lot of consumer products marketing in the private sector, we know what tools it takes to satisfy customers, so we share our utilities clients worry about the future of customer engagement. Also, marketing inefficiencies only get exponentially worse with inadequate tools/technologies because the resources required to compensate for those tools increases as market pressures mount making the TCO (total cost of ownership) untenable.
Look at businesses as straightforward as pizza companies. They have a fraction of the revenue and resources that utilities have yet their use of technologies (marketing automation, robots, self-driving deliver cars, apps, etc.) is lightyears ahead. Look at Domino’s – they’re so dedicated to using technology that they have an 800-person tech team for a company that is half the size of most utilities. Yes, they have simpler business models; so look at highly complex and data-sensitive companies like Blue Cross – same scenario – safely and securely exploiting advanced marketing technologies. Air travel, pizza, healthcare and a host of others are all successfully using modern SaaS-based marketing tools. Today’s reputable SaaS vendors have risen to the challenges utilities face when it comes to safety and security and have platforms that meet utility requirements.
When it comes to working with IT, that’s a tough one. Most utilities’ IT departments are understaffed so, and I don’t blame them, their immediate answer to new technology requests is “no” or “ok, we can put that on the schedule to look at next year”. One thing that’s worked for us are time studies. We work with the utility IT department, a vendor like EnergyX and marketing departments to look at what the TCO (total cost of ownership) is for the current technology compared to the proposed through examining how much time/resources is required to use/maintain the current technology versus the proposed. In the vast majority of cases the new technology ends up saving IT significant effort, time and money.
Surprisingly, cost often meets with the greatest initial resistance but is overcome the quickest. How, by proving out the MROI and/or ROI. If the utility has marketing program performance metrics (by channel), marketing-related costs, market potential, marketing technology support costs and a cursory understanding of consumer behaviour a MROI can be made between current and proposed technologies. If the marketing metrics are not readily available, a simple ROI can be calculated. In ID’s experience the new technology usually wins hands down.
Willdan Completes Acquisition of The Weidt Group
Mar 11, 2019 | Press Release
ANAHEIM, Calif.—(BUSINESS WIRE)—Willdan Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: WLDN) today completed its previously announced acquisition of substantially all of the assets of The Weidt Group, a leading energy analysis and consulting firm previously owned by EYP. The Weidt Group adds new construction consulting and real-time modeling software to Willdan’s capabilities. This acquisition expands Willdan’s presence in the upper Midwest. It also better positions the company to help utilities make their grids more resilient.
Willdan is a nationwide provider of professional technical and consulting services to utilities, government agencies, and private industry. Willdan’s service offerings span a broad set of complementary disciplines that include electric grid solutions, energy efficiency and sustainability, engineering and planning, and municipal financial consulting. For additional information, visit Willdan's website at www.willdan.com.
About The Weidt Group
The Weidt Group, with offices nationwide, was established in 1977 to account for and manage the environmental impacts of building design and construction. Collaborating with architects, engineers, building owners, product manufacturers, utilities and government clients, The Weidt Group makes available accessible strategies for building lifelong energy performance through analysis, benchmarking, verification and software development. For more information, visit www.theweidtgroup.com.
For the past decade, electric utilities have been busy upgrading their operations with advanced meter infrastructure. Although customer acceptance of “smart’” technology has been mixed, there is now overwhelming evidence that technology is transforming how customers expect to be engaged. It should come as no surprise that technology is also redefining how utilities can engage with their customers. Moving beyond online bill pay, real-time consumption charting and a digital presence across social media platforms, utilities must now also consider an expanding array of digital customer services, often driven by artificial intelligence, to better communicate with their customers on an individual level and generally improve operations.
This new-wave of digital communication and personalization is not a moment too soon. Today’s customers expect that digital tools and processes will provide them with personalized access to information and services through their laptop, tablet, mobile device and even conventionally printed formats. These modern customer expectations are being provided for across virtually all industries today, and customers now expect the same level of interconnectivity and congruence from their utility services. Utilities must augment traditional customer communication methods with innovative technology solutions that help to personalize the customer experience while simultaneously improving the cost-effective delivery of kilowatts and other initiatives.
Over the last several years, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with utilities and their customers through a variety of mediums including online building assessments, site visits, building energy reports, and in-bound customer service queries. Based on the data collected through these interactions, there are a number of trends and findings that every electric utility should consider when planning their upcoming customer service delivery strategies, program and marketing campaigns, and even operational expenditures.
This article focuses on findings and trends in two main areas:
How utilities should communicate with customers, and
How utilities can personalize their communications
How Utilities Should Communicate
With so much emphasis placed on moving customer interactions to the digital realm, you may wonder if the sun is finally setting on conventional paper-based communications?
With most of the utilities I engage with, the percentage of customers that have an email address on file with the utility is less than 30 percent, which is undeniably low. This finding is echoed by a 2017 Accenture Report finding that “only 27 percent of energy consumers are active digital users. A third of energy consumers are still struggling with their experiences on their energy provider’s digital channels.” Meanwhile, a 2018 GSMA report on the mobile economy explains that smartphone penetration in North America is currently at 84 percent of the population indicating that the lack of digital customer engagement is likely not due to a lack of digital access, demographics, or even personal preferences.
With smartphone penetration in North America expected to continue growing through 2025 and digital engagement on the rise across all industries, it is hard to imagine that the majority of customers will continue to want to receive paper from their utility. Indeed, that day may already have come and gone. Another recent utility-focused study by Market Strategies International found more than 50 percent of customers would already prefer to engage with their utility digitally, but “only 33 percent of consumers recall any digital communication from their utility.” The Accenture Report found that 88 percent of customers were ready to engage digitally with their utility. The Accenture Report also outlined the myriad of benefits of a digital customer engagement strategy, including more than 50 percent reductions in customer service costs, lowering of operating expenses, and even improved productivity and innovation across the utility workforce.
Figure 1. Smartphone Penetration in North America
Note: Smartphone Penetration in North America continues to rise, supporting an increased appetite for digital content
Source: GSMA Intelligence 2018
Figure 2. Customer Communication Preferences for Different Utility Initiatives
Note: Digital vs Direct Mail preferences can vary significantly, depending on content and customer motivations
Source: EnergyX Solutions Inc. 2018, sample size = 43k
In light of these trends and benefits, it is no wonder that other industries are pushing forward with digital transformations. Coleman Parkes, a UK based research firm, ranked industries’ efforts towards digital transformation on a scorecard and found utilities came in last out of 10 industry sectors examined. The leading industries according to the same scorecard were Telecom and Banking/Financial Services.
So, if customers are struggling to engage with their utility through digital channels, and utilities are struggling to find ways to boost digital engagement is there any hope of making progress? A recent program I was involved with indicates the answer can be a resounding “YES.” During a home energy assessment initiative in 2018, more than 100,000 households received home energy assessments and personalized home energy reports with the option to receive their report digitally via email or on paper via direct mail. During this engagement, we saw a complete reversal of digital engagement trends with more than 90 percent of program participants opting to receive their report digitally via email.
Reading between the lines, this speaks volumes to the perceived interest or value placed on typical utility communications and the customer’s motivation to engage with typical communications. There is an argument to be made that although the majority of utility customers continue to receive paper communications, they still aren’t as actively engaged as the customers that do engage digitally. For example, looking at site traffic referrals across digital platforms in Figure 3, the majority of traffic comes from digital leads such as social media, web-ads and referral landing pages. Similarly, the largest upticks in our site traffic occur after digital marketing campaigns and integrations with online utility “customer account pages" and partner websites.
Digital marketing and leads are key to helping customers engage with digital content, they also tend to be more cost-effective and trackable than direct marketing activities. (Note: direct traffic is comprised of in-person engagements, direct mailings, conventional marketing, radio ads, etc.)
So, the future, and the present, for that matter, are digital. But what should utilities be talking about with customers across their developing digital channels? Research indicates that personalization is key to effective communication with customers. And luckily, digital mediums offer unprecedented personalization at lower unit costs than paper or other conventional mediums.
Figure 3. Breakdown of Website Engagement Origin
Note: Digital marketing and leads are key to helping customers engage with digital content, they also tend to be more cost-effective and trackable than direct marketing activities. (Note: direct traffic is comprised of in-person engagements, direct mailings, conventional marketing, radio ads, etc.)
Source: EnergyX Solutions Inc. 2018, sample size = 57k
How Utilities Can Personalize Communications
The starting point for electric utilities that seek to better understand and communicate with their customers is often consumption history. Information about the customer’s building can be just as informative, if not more so. Building data, such as building age, size and basic information about key equipment and appliances, can provide immediate insights into energy consumption patterns when analyzed through physics-based models or through machine learning algorithms.
Utilities have a strong use-case to collect building information directly from customers, and they are often able to learn a lot about a population in a relatively short amount of time. For example, building data collected over two months through an online building assessment was cross-referenced with actions taken to enroll in energy efficiency programs. When the data was sorted by region, a clear trend emerged: low participating regions had building stocks with a narrower age distribution across a more recent period, while high participating regions had a wider distribution of building ages with a significant number of older buildings.
Building data indicated a trend that older buildings were more likely to participate in energy efficiency programs.
Figure 4. Building Age Distributions for Regions with Low and High Program Participation
Note: Customer engagement can be significantly influenced by building stock and geography. Participation tends to be higher in areas where the building stock is older and more diverse
Source: EnergyX Solutions Inc. 2018, sample size = 100k
When the trend was applied in reverse, regions with older buildings were targeted with marketing campaigns to increase the likelihood of program enrollment, while simultaneously targeting older buildings with a higher average potential to reduce consumption. Relatively straight-forward initiatives like the example just provided indicate that data collected from customers can be used not only to personalize communications back to those same customers, but they can also uncover trends that facilitate more effective and personal communications with customers outside of the surveyed population.
From this example, we can also see that personalization isn’t limited to putting a customer’s name and address on every message. Simply including facts, or even suggestions, targeted to specific building types, customer personas or geographical areas dramatically increases resonance in a historically “one-size-fits-all” industry.
Building data can also be combined with consumption data to provide new insights into customer motivation. In this example, data from an online building assessment platform was analyzed to estimate the difference between the building’s current performance and a modern standard (i.e., annual energy-saving potential). Savings potential was then compared to average historical monthly energy bills provided by a utility partner.
Although the general population saw an increase in their maximum savings potential correlated with higher average monthly energy bills, the population that engaged with the program did not. The engaged population was characterized by an above-average savings potential, regardless of their current average bill amount, and the average annual savings of the engaged population was relatively flat. This indicates that targeting customers simply based on high consumption or high bills is not effective. Engaged customers are often looking for high return-on-investment or above average performance increases, which are not necessarily correlated with high energy bills.
Figure 5. Customer Communication Preferences for Different Utility Initiatives
Note: Engaged customers do not necessarily have higher energy bills, but they do have a higher savings potential on average. In this case, savings potential is determined by building characteristics and equipment that consume more energy than modern, efficient equivalents
Source: EnergyX Solutions Inc. 2018, sample size = 43k
In addition, building data provides some of the best insights into what topics, services, and energy products customers are most interested in. Customers tend to be most interested in products and services that are related to building features and equipment they currently have. The more unique the building feature or piece of equipment, the more likely a customer is to engage or convert on products and services related to that equipment. In another program, where digital home energy reports were sent to residential consumers, clicks on information regarding certain recommended building upgrades were tracked to reveal that the most infrequently recommended services often had some of the highest conversion rates. This indicates that utilities are likely to get the highest relative customer engagement on relatively “niche” topics; and conversely, attempting to engage customers on common or overly broad topics does not guarantee broad engagement or high conversion rates.
Conversion rates tend to increase for products and services that are recommended to fewer people. Products like attic insulation were recommended for more than 12 percent of a population, but only achieved conversion rates of less than 2 percent. Conversely, more specific improvement recommendations like tankless water heaters were recommended for less than 3 percent of a population, but achieved conversion rates of up to 5 percent.
Figure 6. Congruance of Recommendation and Conversion Rates for Energy Efficient Building Retrofits
Note: Conversion rates tend to increase for products and services that are recommended to fewer people. Products like attic insulation were recommended for more than 12 percent of a population, but only achieved conversion rates of less than 2 percent. Conversely, more specific improvement recommendations like tankless water heaters were recommended for less than 3 percent of a population, but achieved conversion rates of up to 5 percent.
Source: Source: EnergyX Solutions Inc., sample size = 75k
Digital communication strategies offer a host of information about customers that savvy organizations use to improve their service offerings, including the percentage of customers engaging via mobile devices, open and read rates for utility communications and conversion rates for utility services and programs. Building information provides deeper insights into building performance and predicted consumption patterns and can be a strong indicator of customer sentiment, engagement and action.
In conversation with utility executives and directors, it is apparent that gaining access to customer information is becoming a top business concern – and it is easy to see why. Customer service strategies, marketing decisions, program planning and even CapEx and OpEx planning are all influenced by our understanding of the customer base. As utility executives realize the growing importance of customer information as a planning resource, safeguarding and leveraging the customer resource is of increasing importance.
Modern digital communication strategies provide a number of mechanisms (e.g., email reporting, web analytics, digital ad stats, etc.) for utilities to collect customer feedback and create conversations with customers. Furthermore, the available options for digital communication channels continue expanding through the popularization of chatbots, artificial intelligence, tracking pixels and advanced customer profiling. As the cutting-edge advances, the utility’s objectives in building out new digital strategies and communication channels to improve personalization in a historically impersonal industry have never been more achievable. And, if all that wasn’t enough, customers simply want a more personal, accessible experience with their utility.
In a time of unprecedented change, where we see consumer choice growing exponentially as new technologies come to market with increasing speed, utility executives have already started asking whether they can afford NOT to make the transition to a more accessible and personal relationship with their customers. With this outlook, the quest to better understand and communicate with the customer becomes an important part of every utility’s near- and long-term planning.
Enhancing the Customer Experience and Improving Brand Perception
For Immediate Release:
Atlanta, GA - January 23, 2019 - Today during the Association of Energy Service Professionals’ (AESP) 29th National Conference in San Antonio, Texas, attended by more than 700 utility professionals, Xcel Energy was recognized for outstanding achievement in customer engagement. AESP is dedicated to bringing veteran and young energy industry professionals together to highlight the most forward-thinking energy companies and to help advance their careers. The AESP Energy Award is granted to select utilities annually to recognize the spirit of innovation. Xcel Energy’s outbound communications program, developed by Apogee Interactive, combines customer engagement, customer satisfaction, education, and program promotions.
Xcel Energy’s Personalized Video Messaging (PVM) program has achieved strong results in customer engagement using proactive, personalized videos to educate customers about how to lower their electric bills, prepare for heating and cooling seasons, delivers annual energy summaries as well as and an email message with information about online energy audits and other programs.
The pilot program, which has now gone to scale, showed that 89 percent of Xcel Energy customers found the videos were very or somewhat useful, with 93 percent giving encouraging feedback. Of the recipients responding, 58 percent reported an improved perception of the Xcel Energy brand.
Engagement, as measured by open and click-thru rates were equally impressive. Open rates topped 50 percent with click-thru rates of 16 percent an increase of what the company typically experiences. Perhaps the most notable accomplishment of the pilot was the 15 percent reduction in calls to the contact center from the treatment group receiving the personalized videos vs. the control.
Apogee’s CEO, Susan Gilbert stated, “Today’s highly competitive marketplace has proven that regardless of industry, companies that deliver personal and relevant messaging find increased customer engagement.” She added, “Our clients are seeing astounding and lasting results with our outbound communications platform, Apogee is proud to serve Xcel Energy and support their innovative approach to customer engagement.”
About Apogee Interactive: Apogee Interactive is a woman-owned business and is the nation’s leading full-service provider of proactive customer engagement software services for utilities. As a partner with the utility industry since 1993, Apogee’s digital engagement platform delivers proactive and personalized communication to hundreds of North American utilities from coast to coast, including some of the largest and most progressive, such as Southern Company, Lakeland Electric, and Jackson EMC. For more information visit www.apogee.net or on LinkedIn.
About Xcel Energy:
Xcel Energy (NASDAQ: XEL) provides the energy that powers millions of homes and businesses across eight Western and Midwestern states. Headquartered in Minneapolis, the company is an industry leader in responsibly reducing carbon emissions and producing and delivering clean energy solutions from a variety of renewable sources at competitive prices. For more information, visit xcelenergy.com or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
Tierra Resource Consultants
Promotes Matthew Joyce to Director
WALNUT CREEK, CA, (DATE Nov. 13, 2018)—Tierra Resource Consultants LLC (www.tierrararc.com) announces the promotion of Matthew Joyce to director. Mr. Joyce has more than 18 years of demand side management experience, including strategic advising, market assessment, utility portfolio and program design, process and impact evaluation, and customer experience and behavior studies. Much of his present work focuses on utility program and portfolio optimization helping utilities adapt to changing and increasingly complex market demands driven by new technologies, customer choices, and regulatory requirements.
“Matthew plays a key role on the Tierra team in a variety of areas, including our work on the development and launch of our DER and electrification advising work areas,” said Principal and Co-founder Marshall Keneipp.
Prior to joining Tierra in 2016, Mr. Joyce served as lead process evaluator for Duke Energy’s residential and commercial EE and DR programs in the utility’s five-state service territory. He also managed numerous research and consulting projects for dozens of utilities, Fortune 500 companies, and local, state and federal bodies, while working as the research director of E Source.
Before joining the energy industry, he worked for Stanford University and the University of California.Mr. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and Public Policy from the University of California