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Utilities Doing Their Part on Covid-19

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5 things Utilities are doing to help customers navigate Covid-19

Utilities have certainly faced their fair share of the “unexpected” over the years. Major storms, wildfires and other natural disasters have repeatedly gut-tested Utilities' operational resiliency and, at times, even the viability of their organizations. But in the face of these challenges, Utilities invariably respond big, stepping up their collective game when it really counts.

While it may not be as visible in the midst of these crises, how Utilities mobilize and act "during" these events can have big impacts on customer perception and brand long after the dust settles. In fact, it's after crises like these that we’ve witnessed some of the largest turnarounds in brand identity- both positive and negative. Since Utilities often operate in the background, it's what they do when customers are watching that has the biggest and most lasting impact on their perception.

What does this all have to do with Corona?

Of course, COVID-19 is not just another storm where Utilities have highly routinized processes for mobilizing resources, "rolling trucks" and stabilizing (and ultimately rebuilding) infrastructure. This is a new challenge for Utilities, as it is for most businesses operating today.

But it is still an opportunity for Utilities to step up once again, and find new ways to help customers navigate these coming weeks- identifying those things that can visibly show customers you understand them at an intimate level, and providing some immediate solutions to ease the burden.

Here are 5 things Utilities are already doing to make a difference during these tough times:

  • Addressing Shifting Demand – The biggest impact on Utility customers from COVID-19 will be a spike their energy bill. Big shifts in demand (i.e. decreasing energy demand in office locations/ increasing demand in customers’ homes) have already been observed in the past week by Utilities actively monitoring interval usage. Innovative Utilities are now getting ahead of this by helping customers understand the effect of this reality, and providing tips and recommendations to help avert potential bill shocks.
  • Increasing Digital Engagement – The increase in “social distancing” has dramatically reduced walk-in center traffic (for Utilities who still provide this service) and has already materially impacted call center staffing and availability. New digital channels implemented by Utilities over past few years will no doubt gain more traction in the coming weeks and months as our legacy channels decrease in availability. For some customers, this may be their first experience digitally engaging with your utility. What a great opportunity to really leverage what these new channels and technologies can deliver!
  • Pricing and Rate Flexibility – The effects of this shifting demand will be exacerbated for customers on time-of-use rates which, by design, penalize peak usage. To address this, we're seeing some Utilities and retail energy providers temporarily revert rates to non-TOU alternatives as well as allowing customers to modify their energy plans mid-cycle.
  • Modifications to Disconnect Policy – Many Utilities have already adjusted their disconnect policies to support customers whose income is being affected by the temporary closing of their work locations- a costly but necessary step to help customers navigate what could be a few weeks of total shutdown.
  • Enabling their own Remote Workforce – Most Utilities have already implemented various forms of social distancing in their organizations, from reducing meeting sizes to fully closing down work locations. As a result, IT functions are working around the clock on their network and communications infrastructure to ensure continuity of business is maintained for this sudden shift to a remote workforce.

This list will grow in the coming days as Utilities do what they do best- look for new ways to help their communities get back on their feet during a crisis. It's one of the things that I’ve most enjoyed watching and participating in over my 30 year career in energy.

This is perfect opportunity to show customers that you understand them at an intimate level, and provide new and creative sources “smart value” that will create lasting impressions with your customers long after the dust from this event clears.

Bob Champagne's picture

Thank Bob for the Post!

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TMG Consulting
The industry leader in comprehensive advisory and professional consulting services focused on Cloud and On-premises IT projects in the utility industry. TMG is a trusted provider for professional, managed, application road map & IT procurement services.

Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 19, 2020 8:55 pm GMT

Addressing Shifting Demand – The biggest impact on Utility customers from COVID-19 will be a spike their energy bill. Big shifts in demand (i.e. decreasing energy demand in office locations/ increasing demand in customers’ homes) have already been observed in the past week by Utilities actively monitoring interval usage. Innovative Utilities are now getting ahead of this by helping customers understand the effect of this reality, and providing tips and recommendations to help avert potential bill shocks.

In the weeks/months to come, this will be the area of the resultant data I'll be most interested to dive into. I wonder what sort of unexpected results we'll see and how those insights might become useful if more people turn to working from home on a more regular basis. 

Dr. Amal Khashab's picture
Dr. Amal Khashab on Mar 19, 2020 9:38 pm GMT

I do not agree with this analysis.

(1) Electricity Utilities are similar to all other service providers who will face shrinking of activities. Look at air aviation services, malls, and shopping centers are closed, etc, what offline working will add? Nothing.

(2) To make it is easier Utilities regularly find a big difference in loading patterns and conditions on weekdays rather than a weekend. Now we are on a very long weekend up to the end of March 2020. This might be extended further, to be a very very long weekend.

(3) By the way in Egypt, the Peak Load decreased by 10% this week. 

(4) Utilities will be facing a revenue decline.

Susan Brissette's picture
Susan Brissette on Mar 25, 2020 1:38 pm GMT

Interesting post Bob. It covers the immediate impacts of Covid-19 but I'd love to get your take on how this will shift work, and customer focus expectations, in the longer term. Will this become the new normal post pandemic? Will technology/automation/robotics investment decisions become easier to justify because perceptions of risk will shift post-pandemic? 

Rami Reshef's picture
Rami Reshef on Mar 26, 2020 2:59 pm GMT

Thank for sharing your insights, Bob. Do you think that by this crisis helping utilities get more used to shifts in demand response, they will be better prepared for a more deep-seated long-term shift to a distributed resources model? Can we look forward to a cleaner and more efficient energy market in which utilities can share the generation burden during peak demand across their prosumers? Can you foresee utilities encouraging an energy ecosystem in which commercial entitities can reduce their time-of-use power consumption costs and instead offset them, earning evenues by delivering power from their supplementary energy sources such as batteries and fuel cells to the grid, avoiding load shedding and eliminating the need for pollutant peaker plants during peak demand? Can this short-term crisis perhaps lead to positive change in the energy sector?

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