By Indran Ratnathicam, FirstFuel
Utilities Need Engagement Strategy on Renewables
Energy consumers face an increasing number of options when it comes to how they get their power. Many are beginning to show interest in renewable energy solutions as a way to not only decrease their carbon footprints, but also cut their energy costs.
As renewables grow in popularity, they are also becoming more affordable-in fact, in some parts of the world, solar is less expensive than coal. The cost of commercial solar has fallen by 16 percent in the last year alone, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
With this momentum, solar and other renewable energy sources could become the lowest-cost energy option on the planet within the next decade.
As residential consumers continue to pursue renewable options, businesses big and small are following suit. A 2016 SEIA report found that some of the largest corporate adopters of solar in the U.S. are making bigger and bigger strides, and are producing enough energy to offset 1.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year.
It’s not just large corporations that are making the change, however. Small- and medium-sized businesses are doing their part as well, often with the help of government grants. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in October 2016 that it would invest more than $300 million to help hundreds of small businesses across the country save money on energy by adopting renewable or more efficient solutions.
What does the business sector’s interest in renewable energy solutions mean for utilities? With business customers making up more than 50 percent of their customer base, utilities must get in on the action and take steps to insert themselves into this new value chain by helping customers understand when and how renewable sources make sense for them.
A new energy frontier and engagement strategy
The new landscape of renewables can be confusing and difficult to navigate for customers, so as businesses big and small navigate the switch to renewables, utilities can expect more questions regarding best practices. A convenience store in Las Vegas, for example, might want to understand how it can leverage solar panels to reduce its energy bills. It also might look for advice on how solar fits into its overall energy mix. These questions present an opportunity for utilities to engage customers by educating them on current energy use and where new solutions can fit in effectively. Utilities can deliver value to customers in the age of renewables by engaging customers in a two-way conversation and delivering personalized insights. By helping businesses manage their energy use and make the necessary shifts to actively be more cost-effective, utilities will secure their place in the new value chain.
Data analysis for more efficient utilization
Utilities have a key asset that no others possess-large quantities of historical data on business customers’ energy use patterns. By leveraging this data, utilities have the unique opportunity to deliver customized insights and suggestions to customers regarding the type of services that are best suited for their unique usage profile. Utilities can use this insight to simultaneously improve customer engagement and reduce their operational costs. With the right tools in place, this insight will streamline customer service, making the time spent with customers much more effective.
If a utility customer service representative can access insight into a customer’s usage patterns during a care call, that representative will immediately build rapport and trust. That same data, when shared with customers, helps them avoid unnecessary spending by zeroing in on excessive energy usage. With the help of data, utilities can emerge as not only providers, but trusted resources to customers.
Utilities will become a service provider
Ultimately, this shift from commodity energy supplier to trusted advisor will allow utilities to develop deeper relationships with business customers as they begin to embrace newer and broader energy options. To succeed, utilities must invest not only in new technologies, but also in the training, service and marketing processes that are essential to translate data into an effective customer engagement strategy.
A report by PwC Global Power & Utilities titled “Customer Engagement in an Era of Energy Transformation” says that utility customers will continue to be more and more digitally connected and social in the coming years. With always-on customers demanding personalized, digestible information at their fingertips, utilities must become more technologically savvy to keep up. This increasing digital connectivity creates a powerful opportunity for utilities to engage their business customers around new energy options using digital portals, social media and email.
By guiding customers through the transition to renewable energy sources, utilities are positioned to leverage existing customer data and relationships to deliver insights, educate and advise customers. In addition, this increased flow of data, will create no shortage of opportunities for utilities to use their unique customer data to engage and deliver real value to customers in the new world order.
Indran Ratnathicam is vice president, marketing and strategy, for First Fuel. He is responsible for production direction, corporate strategy and content development. Prior to joining First Fuel, Ratnathicam was a principal at The Boston Consulting Group. He earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and a bachelor’s of science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.