The New Energy Consumer Demands Innovation

Consumers’ needs in the energy space are becoming increasingly complex and utilities need to cater for these in order to stay ahead.
Published: Fri 20 Nov 2015

Most industries have digitalised their customer communications in order to meet customers’ needs and expectations which are growing in complexity. Customers are now looking to their utilities for the same level of innovation. We invited industry experts to our studios at European Utility Week to hear their take on this need for transformation in the utility space.

Nadeem Sheikh, SVP, Opower, points out that while digitalisation of customer communications is important, it is in the utility’s best interest to create relevance when it comes to connecting with the customer. Customers do not want complicated graphs and jargon. They want information, recommendations and advice which will save them money so this communication has to be relevant, he explains. Digitalisation will also help utilities reduce their operational expenses and improve their efficiency. “A happy customer is cheaper to service.”

He points out that if utilities are innovative enough, they can be at forefront of driving the prosumer revolution.

Consumers want options

Marco Borghesi, OEEX, a software start-up, which won the Young Innovators Award at European Utility Week, says that they are responding to the new consumer’s need for transparency in the energy market. He explains that consumers are becoming increasingly interested in producing their own energy and controlling it, thereby reducing their energy costs. The software creates a marketplace for everyday consumers to exchange energy locally, thereby reducing the load on transmission grids and enabling more efficient use of energy.

He says, “Consumers want choices. Eventually, they will take over the momentum of utilities when utilities are no longer in the driver’s seat. Distributed energy and EVs for instance will force utilities to change their business models.”

Giving consumers control

Maikel van Verseveld, Omnetric, sponsor of the Young Innovators  award, says that in the European energy market, prosumers are getting a fraction of the electricity price back on their surplus power generated. The solution to this, he says, is to match a low selling price with a high buyer price, and come to a middle ground where the consumer pays less than before and the producer receives more money from the energy transaction. By doing this, investment in renewables suddenly becomes a good case.

James Johnston, Co-founder CEO, Open Utility, which won the Initiate Award at European Utility Week has created an online marketplace for energy transactions. Through this solution, customers will be able to buy electricity from a range of energy suppliers, giving consumers control over their energy consumption costs.

He says that decentralised renewable energy sources and energy storage will be a formidable force and IoT will add to its potency. “Consumers will be generating, storing and selling power in the future and utilities need to give them the tools to do this. This will resonate with them and as a result, the utility business will grow.”

Innovating around the new consumer

Diego Pavía, CEO, KIC InnoEnergy says that his company is training game changers of the future because it believes that the energy industry needs innovation to meet the changing needs of energy customers. He explains that business models should be more customer-centric. He says, “The consumer should be viewed as an intelligent, educated element of the value chain.”

Thomas Rowlands-Rees, senior analyst, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, says that innovation in products and services around the new customer is a new challenge for utilities. He adds that there are many possibilities for innovation in the customer space which can lead to a number of great opportunities for both the customer and the utility.