What do residential customers expect from their utility? The answer may surprise you...

Dominique de Wit, Ph.D.'s picture
RA GridX, Inc.

Dominique de Wit, Ph.D., works for GridX, a cloud-based business operation in the Electricity Industry.

  • Member since 2021
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  • Dec 1, 2021

The Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC), a consumer-focused nonprofit, finds that almost 100% of residential consumers are interested in energy technology. A key driver of the growing customer interest in energy technology is lowering their electricity bill.

Customers are expecting utilities to inform them about cost savings by providing personalized bill impact estimates of new technologies, rates, and programs. With 74% of customers now actively engaged with energy, TOU rates will further help customers with overall cost savings by shifting energy consumption to off-peak hours at lower rates.

Enhanced customer engagement therefore will result from personalized rate and program recommendations via an online rate tool:

  • By providing customers rate plan comparison tools with their historical usage information, customers can compare savings under different rates.

  • Engage customers with online rate tools via direct mail, utility website and energy portals, IVRs, and/or Customer Service Representatives/Key Account Managers. 

Figure 1: Rate Comparison Analysis for

Southern California Edison (SCE) utilized this rate comparison tool during its TOU rate transition. For the TOU default pilot that started in March 2018, only 12% of the 400,000 customers opted out of the TOU rates prior to the transition. Since the transition, only 2% switched back to the tiered rate.  

By using the rate comparison tool, customer awareness of TOU rates has increased for SCE’s residential customers. By 2019, the 130,213 customers logging in to the rate comparison tool was an almost 400% increase from 34,043 customers in 2017. Among the sample who say they are on TOU, the proportion who believe it is the best rate for the household rose significantly from 66% in fall 2018 to 82% in fall 2019.

Figure 2: SCE saw an almost 400% increase in number of customers logging into its residential rate comparison tools in 2019 relative to 2017.  

In short, with the growing customer interest in smart energy products, customers increasingly expect utilities to serve as their energy advisor. By providing cost analyses via rate tools with bill impacts, utilities can enhance customer engagement, satisfaction, and trust. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 1, 2021

In short, with the growing customer interest in smart energy products, customers increasingly expect utilities to serve as their energy advisor

This is such an interesting evolution, but one that utilities with foresight have seen coming. There simply wasn't a need for an energy advisor role previously, but with rising costs and a focus on efficiency/clean energy/smart tech, this role should default to utilities. But if the power providers fumble that new role, they can't be surprised if the customers seek out alternatives

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Dec 3, 2021

It is still very hard for most customers to switch to TOU.  That is until they have solar pv and battery storage. I would like to see how many of the recent customers have solar and battery storage. 

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Dec 8, 2021

We're the only industry I know of where regulators actually require utilities to teach customers how to use less of our products, but ironically, increasing customer awareness about how to manage and enhance control of their energy budget and energy use could be the best thing utilities can do to engage customers for immediate and lasting loyalty.  I appreciate the insights in your article.


Customers clearly respond to widgets and calculators all across the ecommerce ecosystem, and these tools have become table stakes for other companies to connect with customer and support enrollment decisions for other products like credit cards, mortgages, mobile plans, and virtually any offer that can save money or provide new and better services.  The image of SoCal Edison's rate comparison display reminds me of our own "compare plans" features on our marketplace solutions, so it makes sense that it appeals to customers and gets their attention.  Customers typically don't make immediate decisions about something like Demand Response, Time of Use or other EE programs, so the effectiveness of these widgets and calculators to drive such high traffic to the site and high enrollment results certainly impresses.  It's a lesson to any utility looking to improve customer engagement that modern CX tools and practices from ecommerce connect very immediately with customers.  Very helpful information.


Paul Korzeniowski's picture
Paul Korzeniowski on Dec 22, 2021

Good points. The reality is utilities have not traditionally been viewed as customer friendly.  With the growing focus on customer experience, consumers expectations are rising. As a result, energy providers need to make changes in how they present information to customers and how much support they offer them. As noted in this case, the technology is there. The question is how willing are utilities to adopt it? 

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Dec 8, 2021

Jim Stack brought up a good point about how difficult it can be for customers to learn about and enroll in DR or TOU programs.  Certainly, utilities get a heaping spoonful of criticism for the outdated look of their websites and the challenges for customers to find the answer to their questions.  I'd say that SoCal Edison's use of a more modern and ecommerce-style approach maps well to how customer engage the web.  


The overwhelming majority of customer activity on the internet relates to shopping behavior, so it's natural for customers to use calculators and widgets like the type SoCal Edison employed to build customer engagement.  I'd love to see other utilities take a modern eCommerce approach to enrolling customers in DR and TOU programs and make it easy for customers to find the answer to their question and "order" a demand response program or connect their EV Charger to a TOU program to achieve their EE goals.  Making digital easier is the first step for utilities to achieve results in their digital transformation projects, and eCommerce offers a lot of useful insights for how to help customers get what they want from a website.

Dominique de Wit, Ph.D.'s picture
Dominique de Wit, Ph.D. on Dec 8, 2021

Thanks Mark, Jim and Matt. I appreciate your comments. 


I think we’ve only just reached the tip of the ice berg in terms of the extent and scope with which the utility customer service model will evolve, and the extent of customer adoption of various energy related technologies and platforms. In relation to Mark's comment, customer acceptance and experience with various digital/e-commerce platforms certainly opens up wide ranging opportunities for utilities to think about how customers engage with their energy use and their utility. 

Dominique de Wit, Ph.D.'s picture
Thank Dominique for the Post!
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