Three things consumers want from electricity providers
Utilities are working to improve the customer experience, but what do consumers really want? Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative’s Patty Durand explores.
It’s no surprise that the energy industry is undergoing unprecedented change today. Driven by a number of factors, including innovations in renewable energy generation, the emergence of new entrants into the energy industry and the proliferation of smart meters (to name a few), utilities are transitioning from transactional, commodity-based business models to improving the customer experience similar to familiar brands like Amazon and Netflix.
This shift necessitates a dramatically new way of thinking about customers. The era of consumers just mailing in a paper bill and then disengaging until the next month is declining rapidly. Today, business changes brought about by digitalization and personalization are no more avoidable for electricity providers than they are for other consumer-facing companies, like banks and insurers.
That said, as we’re in the middle of this widespread industry transformation, it’s important to keep close tabs on the voice of energy consumers. What changes do they actually want to see from their electricity providers? And what new programs and services are actually garnering interest?
The state of energy consumers today
To address these questions and more, we recently conducted an analysis of three of our consumer research projects from 2017 and two third-party research reports, the Department of Energy’s “Voices of Experience: Integrating Intermittent Resources” and Mission:data Coalition’s “EmPOWERED Consumer”, which provided additional source material on distributed energy resources and energy data, respectively.
Using these inputs, along with case studies on programs from Pacific Gas & Electric and Georgia Power that also published in 2017, the resulting “State of the Consumer” report seeks to better understand energy consumers — their perceptions, attitudes and needs — and leverages this understanding to formulate actions that utilities and other energy service providers can take to better serve and engage their customers.
Here are three notable things we found about the wants and needs of energy consumers today.
1. Consumers are clear about support for clean energy investments
Renewable energy — both distributed and utility-scale — is coming on the grid at a record pace, but how do most U.S. consumers feel about this transition?
Based on our nationally representative consumer surveys from 2017, support for cleaner and more sustainable energy resources is high across the board. For example, the “Consumer Pulse and Market Segmentation Study – Wave 6” results, one of the major inputs in the “2018 State of the Consumer” report, found that the vast majority of consumers (82 percent) “favor clean energy investments when no additional cost [to consumers] is involved.”
However, even when we look at incorporating an additional cost for clean energy investments, overall support still remains high. For example, 41 percent of consumers indicate they are willing to pay an additional $15 per month for access to clean energy resources, such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass.
Further, when we dug into the millennial generation’s interest in renewable energy, we found a pronounced increase in support. Compared to 41 percent of all U.S. consumers, more than two-thirds of millennial respondents reported a willingness to pay extra to support the integration of renewable energy resources into the grid to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. More than half of millennials also found the concept of rooftop solar appealing.
2. Is more data a good thing in the eyes of consumers?
Data is everywhere these days, and it’s impacting both the back-end and consumer-facing operations at electricity providers. But do consumers actually see value in their energy data? Or is it just more meaningless clutter in their already digitally inundated lives?
Interestingly, consumers do see value in their energy data. When asked about their interest in various utility programs and services, like home energy management and pre-paid billing, real-time energy usage information garnered the second highest level of interest, at 63 percent, behind only real-time outage reporting, which is also reliant on smart meter data.
Millennials, again, appear to be even more interested than older generations in energy data. More than 75 percent of them are interested in home energy reports, and similarly high levels are interested in both real-time energy usage information and receiving data-powered savings suggestions via a mobile app or website portal.