Forming a more engaged utility-to-customer relationship

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

// The change to seeing a residence as a customer rather than just a rate payer is a big jump, but it doesn’t have to be a difficult one. Your ability to regulate the grid may depend on it.

In the effort to regulate electrical distribution and smooth out the grid without adding new generating capacity, much of the low-hanging fruit has already been harvested. Utilities have eaten those apples and the next ones are getting harder to reach. By that I mean that demand management and reduction in the industrial and commercial sectors has already been happening and the easy things have probably already been done. So, where is that next layer of fruit?

There’s no doubt that there will be more coming from industrial and commercial sectors, but it’s clear that residential users represent the larger untapped source. As Mike Matthews points out in the attached video, utilities are turning to residential users as a new way to manage electrical consumption and curtail peak loading. This requires much different approach than working with a steel mill, shopping mall, or office building. Those large-scale customers understand how trimming a few watt hours here and there can add up. Residential users by and large aren’t so clear, but they can still make a difference and utilities need to change the way they do business to exploit that possibility.

The adjustment, as Matthews points out, is that utilities need to change the nature of their relationship with their customers. While in years past a utility saw the house at the end of the line a rate payer, getting that household to change its thinking and become a willing participant in such a demand management or energy efficiency endeavor requires a change on the utility’s end as well.

An electric utility now has to differentiate itself in the eyes of its residential customers, whether it is in a truly competitive situation or not. Even if a utility is still effectively a monopoly in a given area, residential customers will never regard it the same way again due to changes in relationships with other utility providers such as phone and cable services. Creating that differentiation in a positive way by creating a new kind of relationship is paramount. Something as simple as offering a program where residential customers can participate in a Wiser demand response or energy efficiency program can go a long way toward changing hearts and minds, while helping the utility stay efficient and providing a very practical means for ensuring grid stability.

In a growing number of areas, existing utility companies are not in a monopolistic situation, so the idea that a customer can change suppliers is very real and immediate. Those utility companies have an even stronger motivation for reaching out, and Wiser is a very easy and cost-effective way to do that. The thermostat itself is the most visible element, but it’s really only a gateway to the whole system and all it can do. Customers appreciate the idea that the electricity supplier is helping provide a way to use that product more effectively and efficiently. They can save money managing their own demand, and you can help ensure a reliable supply of power.

Of course the consumer might have tuned out for that last bit. The idea of saving money may have been enough, and maybe that’s really all they need to think about.

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