Drive customer engagement with DER

Jay Malin's picture
Managing Director Good Egg Media LLC DBA AGENT511

Jay Malin, Ph.D., is a cofounder of AGENT511 and manages solution architecture for its utility and public safety solutions. He led the company's effort to develop and deploy the first text...

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  • Oct 29, 2020

This item is part of the Distributed Energy Resources - Fall 2020 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

The utility of the future is a software-as-a-service Managed Energy Provider expert in the transport of electrons.  The NextGen utility integrates with the Distributed Energy Resource (DER) ecosystem to empower utilities and customers to seamlessly optimize prosumer energy services.  But in order for these tools to work correctly, the NextGen utility must engage its customers by delivering personal, branded communications across components, programs, and even channels.  To gain the complete benefit of DER, customers must convey, with some granularity, their energy requirements to the utility and DER Management System (DERMS).   During these disruptive times comes uncertain customer behaviors and it has never been more important to recalibrate models and include customers in energy planning.  Frictionless mobile communications offer customers the ability to instantly express their resource needs, thereby improving the detail with which the utility balances the load.   In order to offer these services, utilities, as their trusted energy advisor, must now engage and communicate with their customers.

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Customer engagement for residential solar has predominantly focused on mitigation of call center volumes by creating solar calculators to overcome missed customer expectations.  This unjustly paints a picture that undercuts the real future of the utility, one that reinforces the brand through personalized customer interactions.  It’s the reason that Comcast’s Xfinity brand and high-bandwidth plant are crucial in Comcast’s strategy to counter the commonization of the Internet. [i]    As the legacy energy provider and operator of the grid, the NextGen utility is well positioned strategically to own the future.

As shown in Figure 1 (left), the customer’s DER operates independently of the utility.  The battery and optional generator must be overengineered to ensure availability of energy, thereby driving up energy costs.  Even with grid-tie, a lack of battery limits the options to balance short-term costs and needs.   On the right, a hybrid grid-tie inverter permits the two-way flow through the meter and both generated and stored energy can be shared with the grid.  The customer’s cost is net metered and is impacted in real-time by actual energy demand and supply.

Figure 1:  off-grid (left) and hybrid grid-tie (right) systems

The full benefit of integrated DER systems is realized when the supply and demand for both parties are together optimized.  If the utility wishes to purchase energy during a peak, it can only do so if the customer is able to spare the energy.  Only a customer certain the system could meet their needs would schedule the DERMS to automatically sell supply.  The pandemic served to accelerate disruptions in customer routines, thereby making it challenging to predict energy consumption patterns today and in the future.  With remote learning, virtual workspaces, and people out-of-work or working flexible jobs, customers need choices to overcome uncertainties in their energy usage patterns. 

Today, each component (solar, EV, battery, price signal) is deployed as a silo with its own alerts and mobile and web experiences.  As the Managed Energy Provider, the NextGen utility is best positioned to deliver a seamless, consolidated, branded customer experience that combines customer preference with energy prices, and energy exchanges.[ii]  Customers are able to instantly respond to relevant changes in market demand with IoT devices (like a thermostat), schedulers, and solicited mobile messaging.   Some examples as follows as shown in Figure 2:

  • The customer’s thermostat sensor informs the system on a peak day that the customer is home and may not require use of the EV.  The system sends a text message to the customer asking them to reply if it can purchase energy from the EV’s battery.  
  • Energy costs are low[iii] and based upon a mobile push alert, the customer wishes to run appliances in excess of what their DER’s can generate.
  • A customer is using some heavy equipment for a remodeling project on a moderate day and the neighbor has excess energy to sell at a price the utility has helped to broker using digital currency.[iv]
  • The system detects the family is out during a weekday.  The homeowner receives an alert that energy is at a premium and opens the mobile app to let the system know it can discharge the battery in exchange for a lower rate upon return.

Figure 2:  overview of Managed Energy Provider customer engagement

The NextGen utility’s objectives are achieved when the combined ecosystem of DER’s, pricing signals, DERMS, and customer preferences and communication channels, is aligned with their customer engagement strategy.[v]  The objectives are best met when customers not only realize financial benefits, but take ownership in their green energy futures.  By creating premier customer experiences today using intelligent, branded interactive communications and predictive analytics, NextGen utilities can retain engaged customers in order to construct the utility of the future.


AGENT511 helps utilities to develop and build upon its customer engagement strategies by delivering timely, relevant multichannel communications.  Its preference-based cloud platform delivers two-way and proactive messaging for outage, billing, usage, and appointments.  Its team works closely with stakeholders to create seamless customer journeys in support of the utility of the future.    Our team is continually innovating and bringing leading-edge solutions to market.  We take pride in delivering quality, on-time and on-budget services.



[iii], p. 81.


[v], p. 9.



Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 28, 2020

Energy costs are low[iii] and based upon a mobile push alert, the customer wishes to run appliances in excess of what their DER’s can generate.

I see this use case a lot, and it makes sense-- but it makes me wonder why some utilities aren't moving faster to make a modern and useful app for their customers today. You want your customer base to already have and use this app-- to pay bills, to check power usage, for other basic purposes-- so when it's time to roll out something like this you're already in their app lineup!

Jay Malin's picture
Jay Malin on Nov 2, 2020


Thanks for your comments.  I believe many organizations have resisted the app primarily due to cost and driving downloads, however, inevitibility may be tied to the NextGen utility whereby customers will view the app as a dashboard to their energy environment.  Combined with notifications, the app becomes a desitnation to fulfill calls to action.


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 28, 2020

Makes sense to me, Jay. When smartphones started to blow up, I wouldn't have imagined how frequently I'd use my banking apps to track financial health or use nutrition apps to track physical health etc., so who's to say utilities can tap into that next generation and make semi-regular check ins of customer energy 'health' commonplace? Exciting to think about, and I'll be eager to see who the early movers are in this regard!

Jay Malin's picture
Thank Jay for the Post!
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