Transforming utility customer service: Final thoughts on C&I customer sustainability goals

Utility customers are becoming increasingly more concerned about climate change, its societal repercussions and how it impacts their businesses. As a result, many commercial & industrial (C&I) customers are developing and publicizing corporate sustainability goals. This series of articles explored several case studies that highlighted the various ways utilities are helping customers meet sustainability goals and facilitate a transition to a low-carbon future.

A review of these case studies reveals several key elements of what drives a successful partnership between utilities and customers as customers look to implement ambitious conservation goals. Customers are looking to utilities as a source of information, to provide holistic solutions to their energy problems, engage in deep communication, and enable innovative approaches to tackling energy issues.

In order to meet bold sustainability goals, the first step is often for companies to measure and understand their energy usage. Utilities remain a prominent source of that information through billing and metering data. Additionally, utility sponsored energy efficiency programs typically offer incentives for energy management systems and connected devices that can also be a key source of data. Data from these systems and devices can be used to help disaggregate energy consumption, leading to deeper insight into what is driving usage. The more granular the information is, the better customers can understand their specific challenges and find data-driven insights. The demand is already there from customers who want to better understand the energy, emission and cost implications of business decisions they are considering. This starts with data from the utility.

Customers are also looking for holistic solutions to their energy problems, and many large customers are no longer looking at energy projects in isolation but instead are taking a portfolio approach. In the Xcel Energy and City of Minneapolis case study it was clear that the city wanted a comprehensive vehicle electrification plan, not a focus on a single component or agency. This resulted in a strategy with Xcel that included multiple municipal agencies and covered charging equipment, operating and maintenance expenses, and advisory services.

Likewise, the Bank of America case study highlighted work with PG&E to develop a strategy across 33 sites in Northern California that covered a slew of different energy retrofit upgrades. Utilities can support this approach through energy benchmarking exercises, either against industry peers or for different locations within the same company, in order to help customers optimize the deployment of capital budgets across their portfolio.

Many of the case studies presented in this series (full list below) showcased the importance of communication between utilities and their customers and how customers desire a deeper partnership with their utility. Large C&I customers want to work with utilities to help develop rates and tariffs that make sense for all parties. Walmart worked with Florida Power and Light to develop the SolarTogether program and Georgia Power to develop the Commercial & Industrial Renewable Energy Development Initiative. Sometimes these relationships are formalized, such as the Clean Energy Partnership in Minneapolis, between the city and the utilities that serve it, and other times these relationships are more informal like getting feedback through the Edison Electric Institute’s National Key Accounts Program. Whether the partnership is formal or informal, customers want utilities to develop internal policies and procedures that are conducive to helping customers meet their conservation and climate goals.

The last prominent theme that emerged from this series of case studies was the importance of innovation in meeting increasingly aggressive sustainability goals. McDonald’s is a great example of pushing the boundaries of current design thinking by building and operating a Net Zero restaurant. Companies have also set up novel internal programs and metrics in order to further corporate goals. Bank of America has focused on LEED certification to help meet climate goals, while McDonald’s has developed an internal retrofit program for franchisees which can take advantage of utility energy efficiency and audit programs. These types of approaches require cooperation and forward thinking from both the utility and the customer.

The complete 2020 series:

In this series I’ve covered just a few of the many interesting examples of how companies are working with their utility partners to help achieve corporate sustainability goals and enable a low-carbon future. While these partnerships take on different forms and levels of formality, what is clear is that customers want their utilities to be a reliable source of value-add information that can provide data-driven insights, provide holistic thinking around a portfolio of projects, participate in meaningful communication that takes customer feedback to heart, and create the infrastructure necessary to implement innovative solutions. Utilities, in turn, have to show a willingness to be flexible and design offerings that are ready to evolve with their customer’s needs in order to provide a sustainable future.

About the Author:

Michael Goldman is a Director on the Energy Efficiency team at Eversource Energy, the largest energy delivery company in New England. He is a frequent contributor to conferences and articles on distributed energy resources and their impact on the evolving grid.

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