The Growing Utility-Customer Disconnect

Itron’s second annual Resourcefulness survey reveals a growing disconnect between consumers and utilities.
Published: Thu 29 Jan 2015

Despite the growing customer outreach by many utilities, overall it seems that the disconnect between utilities and consumers is growing, the latest annual Resourcefulness Index survey from Itron suggests.

While it is encouraging that consumers want information, among those surveyed 54% believe there is a lack of information about consumption and conservation, citing this as the biggest issue that threatens the industry. However, only 25% of utility executives rank customer education as an urgent concern, down from 26% previously, and if the utility executives had to reduce their budgets by 10% these programmes would be the first to go.

The survey was conducted with 900 utility executives and 900 informed consumers from 16 countries across all regions of the world.

Consumer concerns

As far as the consumers surveyed are concerned, the most urgent concerns – all cited by more than 40% – are supplying and/or supporting new sources, ensuring the continual supply of gas, electricity and water to customers, minimizing lost revenue that occurs through operational inefficiencies, and keeping up with the needed rate of investment in infrastructure.

Conversely the utility executives indicated their most urgent concern as dealing with new (or the possibility of new) government regulations in the industry (cited by 30%). Next are protecting against physical or cyber attacks and keeping customer data private and secure, with the consumer concerns following. Only the fourth of these – keeping up with investment – is lower down the ranking with consumer education.

Notably in the current survey the proportions of consumers registering urgency of concern in almost all areas of concern have increased over the previous survey. However, the proportions of utility executives have declined in almost all areas. This suggests that while concern is growing among consumers, there is growing confidence on the part of the utility executives on the outlook for the sector.

For both the utility executives and consumers ensuring the continual supply of electricity, gas and water is a top issue looking ahead over the next five years. The utility executives also cite supplying/supporting new sources and facing man-made or natural disaster recovery. However, for consumers other top issues pertain to resource availability, including finding new sources of electric generation, locating new sources of natural gas and the availability of suitable groundwater or surface water.

Consumer education

Interestingly the survey found that almost two-thirds of utility executives believed they have been successful in consumer engagement – an increase from 55% last year. However, with consumers feeling less informed about the utility industry and less satisfied with the information they are receiving, they will need to rethink.

Clearly, from the survey, consumers want information on consumption and conservation. But they are also likely to be interested in broader industry information such as the development of renewables.

Consumers recognized in the survey that they have a role to play, alongside governments and utilities, in improving resourcefulness by being less wasteful in their electricity, gas and water use. The provision of such information will support them in this role.

Other survey findings

Among the other findings is the need for the industry to continue to modernize infrastructure, with 83% of utility executives agreeing that infrastructure investment is needed. Further, nearly one-third of utility executives reported that business intelligence and analytics would be at the top of their investment wish list, indicative of the key role of technology and software tools to transformation

However, barriers remain, with a significant increase in barriers that are less frequently cited. For example, utility executives cited a lack of private funding as a barrier to infrastructure investment, rising 17% from last year, and the need for more time rose 14%.

“Based on the findings, we believe utilities have the opportunity to deploy technologies and solutions to reduce waste, revitalize infrastructure, enhance service reliability and engage with their customers,” commented Philip Mezey, Itron president and CEO, adding his view that the report will serve as an ongoing benchmark for the utility industry.

Further reading

Itron Resourcefulness Index 2015 Edition