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What Today’s Consumers Want from Their Electricity Providers

This item is part of the Special Issue - 05/2018 - Customer Care, click here for more

It’s no surprise that the energy industry is undergoing serious change. This can be attributed to innovations in clean energy, the emergence of new entrants into the industry and the proliferation of smart meters – to name just a few. Big picture: utilities are transitioning from transactional, commodity-based business models to focusing on the experience of each individual customer.

The era of customers just mailing in a paper bill is passing us by, and the changes brought about by digitalization and personalization are no more avoidable for electricity providers than they are for any other consumer-facing company.

That said, as we’re in the middle of this transformation, it’s important to keep close tabs on the voice of energy consumers. To do so, we recently conducted a meta-analysis of three consumer surveys from 2017 and two third-party reports, the Department of Energy’s “Voices of Experience: Integrating Intermittent Resources” and Mission:data Coalition's “EmPOWERED Consumer”, which provided additional information on distributed energy resources and energy data, respectively.

Using these inputs and case studies on programs from Pacific Gas & Electric and Georgia Power, our “2018 State of the Consumer” report seeks to better understand today’s energy consumers and to formulate actions that utilities and other energy service providers can take to better serve these individuals.

Here are three notable things we found about the wants and needs of energy consumers today:

1. Consumers support clean energy investments

Renewable energy – both distributed and utility-scale – is coming on the grid at a record pace, but how do consumers feel about it?

Based on our consumer surveys from 2017, support for renewable energy resources is high. For example, the “Consumer Pulse and Market Segmentation Study – Wave 6” study found that the vast majority of consumers (82 percent) “favor clean energy investments when no additional cost is involved.”

However, even when we look at additional costs for clean energy investments, support still remains high. For example, 41 percent of consumers indicate they will pay an additional $15 per month for access to clean energy resources.

Further, with millennials, we found a substantial increase in support. Compared to 41 percent of all U.S. consumers, more than two-thirds of millennial respondents reported they would pay extra to support the integration of renewable energy into the grid.

2. Consumers appear ready for more energy data

Interestingly, consumers do see value in their energy data. When asked about their interest in various utility programs and services, real-time energy usage information garnered the second highest level of interest, at 63 percent.

Millennials, again, appear to be more interested than older generations. Over 75 percent are interested in home energy reports, and similarly high levels are interested in both real-time energy usage information and data-powered savings suggestions via a mobile app or website.

Our research has shown repeatedly that control over home energy usage is one of the most important values for energy consumers, and consumers do seem to be making the connection between more control and more data.

3. Peak-shifting programs can be a win for consumers

Time-of-use rates are becoming more widespread, and these types of pricing plans offer numerous benefits to electricity providers; however, do consumers actually see potential benefits for themselves?

Our research found that consumers show considerable interest in programs that reward them for reducing their electricity usage during periods of high demand. The aforementioned “Consumer Pulse” study found that 59 percent of U.S. consumers were either “probably interested” or “definitely interested” in participating in such a program. Again, with millennials, we see a slightly higher trend.

In our “Spotlight on Renters” report, we also found that there’s no considerable difference in interest in these programs between homeowners and renters. More Americans rent today than any time in the past 50 years, and meeting the unique needs of this subset of consumers will be crucial for the future of the utility industry.

Since peak-shifting programs require neither upfront financial investments nor the involvement of landlords/property managers, there appears to be a unique opportunity for engagement with renters for these kinds of programs. Further, since renters often have lower household incomes, the program incentives offered (e.g., bill credits or rebates) are likely to be even more appealing to them.

Conclusion

The energy sector today is in the midst of widespread change. No longer a luxury, strategies for effective customer engagement are increasingly viewed as a cornerstone for electricity providers seeking to be successful in a smart energy future.

A major part of this new outlook for electricity providers is staying ahead of evolving consumer needs and expectations, and the “2018 State of the Consumer” report provides a blueprint for several actions that electricity providers can take today and moving forward.

The report shows that across the board consumers welcome the “utility of the future”. They want to see a shift to renewable energy and are ready for new programs that can help them take control of their home energy use and help them save money too.

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