Customer Service, DER-Grid Edge, Electric Vehicles, Energy Efficiency, Executive Insight, Metering, Smart Grid, Solar

Understanding the drivers, disruptors, and destinations for today’s evolving utility customer

Cover of Deloitte Insights report on The Utility Customer of the FutureCredit: Deloitte

Customer roles and expectations are rapidly changing, and many utilities face a higher bar to meet on customer service. How can evolving utilities use their increased access to data to profitably elevate their residential customers’ experience?

The Customer’s Journey from Ratepayer to Transumer

The first phase in the utility customer’s journey is a commodity transaction between ratepayers and the utility. As energy choice grows and electrons gain attributes such as time-varying rates, utilities can start offering consumers a customer experience. Most significantly, customers residing in solar-paneled smart homes can engage in a bidirectional flow of energy and data between the utility and prosumers. The latter might evolve into transumers when peer-to-peer trading in transactive markets move beyond the pilot stage.

The Human Experience

The wealth of data that prosumers create enables a more personalized approach, accounting for the different values that people assign to various energy attributes such as “greenness”. By connecting these attributes to individual stories during key moments that matter, such as during an outage or the purchase of an electric vehicle, the utility can deliver elevated human experiences.  

The Utility’s Journey from Energy Provider to Platform

Three key drivers appear to be reshaping the power industry and customer expectations. First, considering decarbonization goals, customers expect utilities to support their adoption of renewables with green tariffs, energy efficiency incentives, and support for producing renewables. Second, decentralization is accelerating as prosumers deploy solar, storage, and dispatchable demand response and come to expect incentivized load shifting. Third, digitalization is creating new data streams, increasing expectations for more real-time and actionable energy data to maximize convenience and savings. 

The 3D Disruptors: Disintermediation, Demand & Disasters

Three disruptors could derail the utility and customer journeys. First, utilities face the risk of being disintermediated from their relationship with customers if they do not meet expectations, leading these customers to develop stronger relationships with new entrants. Second, new sources of demand on the grid require customer engagement to help prevent load spikes from EV charging and to integrate rooftop solar. Third, disasters such as a cyberattack could befall a utility’s digital infrastructure.  

The 3D Destination: Data, DSM & DER

Utilities can profitably leverage technology in various ways to overcome these disruptors.

            Data-driven experience

Utilities can deliver a data-driven experience by building analytical capabilities that harness smart meter data to personalize offerings. Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is producing terabytes of data and utilities are barely using it. If utilities aggregated data from all their information systems and nonenergy information, they could develop highly granular knowledge about each customer and offer a highly personalized experience. Thanks to AI and machine learning they could even apply these insights to customers without smart meters and smart homes, enabling personalization for all utility customers. This personalization could strengthen customer relations and minimize disintermediation. 

Demand-side management in the smart home

Utilities can engage customers in smart-home demand-side management to avoid demand disruption. Utilities can do this by bringing real-time energy data to customers via a smart meter-smart home connection supportive of customized demand-side management (DSM). For example, DSM has traditionally focused on reducing or shifting usage to reduce peak demand, but some prosumers now see DSM as a means to integrate more renewables into the grid by shifting their demand to times of excess wind and solar. In this case, connecting to prosumer’s values surrounding climate activism might be more powerful than a bill rebate in encouraging DSM participation. Another way to engage customers in smart DSM is to communicate via voice assistants and connect them to customized product bundles from energy marketplaces, which are driving utility enrollment in demand response programs for smart thermostats.

DER platform for services and businesses

Utilities can create a distributed energy resource (DER) platform to integrate the grid’s heterogenous energy resources, data sources, and third-party players into an interoperable DER platform. As an energy-as-a-service platform, it would enable the aggregation of residential thermostats so that prosumers can participate in wholesale markets. As an energy-as-a-business platform, it could allow utilities to create programs based on smart meter data for third parties to offer tailored DSM solutions to customers at a lower cost than existing programs. The platform could also provide an opportunity for utilities to monetize the value-added data they create from their analytics. Finally, the platform could allow utilities to expand their marketplace offerings to other smart home products, EV advisory services, contractor referrals, and nonenergy services such as home monitoring services for the elderly. Another opportunity would be to work with businesses to offer customized green energy and EV programs to their employees.  

Conclusion

In an industry where Digitalization, Decentralization, and Decarbonization are reshaping customer expectations, while utilities contend with a new confluence of potentially costly disruptions related to Demand, Disintermediation, and Disasters, there is a path for utilities to profitably leverage new technology while elevating human experiences. They can deliver a Data-driven experience by building analytical capabilities that harness smart meter data in order to personalize their offerings. They can engage customers in DSM in a smart home through real-time energy data sharing with customers, communicating via voice assistants, and offering customers customized product bundles from their energy marketplaces. And they can create a DER platform for energy services and businesses that empower customers while creating a more resilient grid.

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt summary of Deloitte’s report, “A framework for the utility customer of the future: The journey to a smart platform To read the full report, visit www2.deloitte.com/insights.