Improved proactive communication using such direct and electronic channels as text messages, email notifications and blogs is helping electric utility providers improve satisfaction among their business customers, according to the J.D. Power 2014 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study released Feb. 12. The study includes U.S. electric utilities that each serves more than 25,000 businesses. More than 90 utility brands’ serving a total of nearly 12 million business customers are included in the study. Overall customer satisfaction is measured by examining six factors: power quality and reliability; billing and payment; corporate citizenship; price; communications; and customer service.
Overall satisfaction among electric utility business customers averages 662 on a 1,000-point scale, an improvement from 647 in 2013. Communications satisfaction increases by 68 points when customers receive communications from their utility providers. Communications methods that generate the highest communication satisfaction scores are blogs (771); in-person visits by utility representative (757); text messages (753); and utility social media site (745).
- Overall satisfaction improves in each of the six factors year over year, with the greatest increases in price (+18 points) and communications (+16).
- Satisfaction is lowest among small-business customers. Overall satisfaction among businesses spending $250 to $499 per month on their electric bills averages just 655, while satisfaction among the larger business sizes averages 665.
- Slightly less than one-third (32 percent) of business customers are aware of their utilities’ efforts to increase the general safety of the electric system. Overall satisfaction among customers who are aware of such efforts is 116 points higher than among those who are not aware (741 vs. 625, respectively).
- Power quality and reliability satisfaction among business customers who experience a power outage and receive information regarding the outage is 691, compared with 558 among those who do not receive any outage information. Power quality and reliability satisfaction is highest among customers who receive outage information proactively from their utilities (745) and lowest among those who did not receive any outage information proactively from their utilities (673).
- Satisfaction improves for 79 of the 93 utility providers included in the study, compared with 2013.
“The biggest declines for utilities with satisfaction scores the same or lower than in 2013 are in customer service, which is an area they have total control over,” said Jeff Conklin, senior director of the energy practice at J.D. Power. “Customer expectations are increasing and utilities need to keep up with them. The greatest struggle for utilities’ being left behind is their business customers’ online experience—an area they can directly address.”
Within each of the four geographic regions included in the study, utility providers are classified into one of two segments: large (serving 85,000 or more business customers) and midsize (serving between 25,000 and 84,999 business customers). Rankings within each region and segment are as follows:
East Region. PPL Electric Utilities ranks highest among large electric utility providers in the East Region for the second consecutive year, with a score of 681. Among midsize electric utilities in the East Region, Central Hudson Gas & Electric (676) ranks highest.
Midwest Region. In the Midwest Region, MidAmerican Energy (697) ranks highest among large electric utilities. Indianapolis Power & Light Co. ranks highest among midsize brands for the second consecutive year, with a score of 696.
South Region. Georgia Power (713) ranks highest among large utilities in the South Region for the second consecutive year. Among midsize electric utilities, Entergy Texas ranks highest for the second consecutive year, with a score of 700.
West Region. Salt River Project (713) ranks highest among large electric utilities in the West Region. Among midsize electric utility providers, Sacramento Municipal Utility District ranks highest (713).
The 2014 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study is based on responses from more than 23,700 online interviews with business customers that spend at least $250 monthly on electricity. The study was fielded from April through June 2013 and September through December 2013.
Parago Reveals Most Effective Rewards to Change Consumer Purchase Behavior
Parago, a global incentives provider that works with some of the top utility companies in the world, has published its latest survey results, and utility customers have spoken. Twice as many customers prefer a $100 prepaid card over a $100 bill credit.
Today’s economy is forcing businesses to look for new ways to incent shoppers to purchase products or subscribe to a service. The newest parago study, “People Prefer Prepaid Rewards,” shows that prepaid cards are the preferred incentive.
The research also revealed that consumers still prefer physical cards to digital rewards—even when Amazon gift codes are an option.
“We’re not surprised to confirm that consumers love prepaid card rewards,” said Theresa Wabler, global director of marketing at parago. “These cards are like cash, and people enjoy the flexibility and convenience. What was more unexpected was that in an era of digital shopping, consumers still prefer physical over digital rewards. This report gives a clear directive to consumer-facing businesses: Your customers are more likely to buy from you when rewarded with prepaid cards, sometimes even in values lower than other incentives.”
The popularity of prepaid cards is evidenced by this market’s continued growth, which blossomed to $194.5 billion in 2012, according to Mercator Advisory Group. The closed-loop, or retailer-specific, prepaid market grew at a slower rate in 2012.
Key findings from the research include:
- Prepaid cards rule. More than half of shoppers prefer prepaid cards over gift cards from Amazon, iTunes, Target, Walmart, Home Depot and more.
- People prefer plastic. Two out of three shoppers prefer physical cards over digital cards.
Prepaid wins across every industry:
- Two times more car buyers prefer a $200 prepaid card than a $250 instant discount.
- 62 percent of replacement tire purchasers prefer a cash reward on a prepaid card.
- One out of two consumers will pick a cable, Internet or utility provider that offers a prepaid card reward.
- For hotels, a prepaid card reward is four times more powerful than 50 percent off a third night.
- One out of three single-cup coffee maker buyers prefers prepaid cards (a higher percentage than any other reward option).
The shopper survey was completed in September 2013 via independent online delivery.
More than 1,400 consumers (representative of the U.S. population by education, income and sex) responded to a 23-question survey that explored which rewards would affect their purchasing behaviors.
The full study may be downloaded for free at www.parago.com/rewardpreference.
EYE ON THE WORLD
EstLink 2 HVDC transmission between Finland, Estonia increases power threefold
|Valve hall of the HVDC-converter station in Anttila, Finland.|
Siemens Energy completed the EstLink 2 project, a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) link consisting of converter stations in Anttila, Finland, and Pàƒ¼ssi, Estonia.
Power is now being transmitted by Fingrid, the transmission system operator in Finland, and Elering, the transmission system operator in Estonia. This new link increases the power transmission capacity between the countries by a factor of three. The new, more reliable joint transmission capacity between the two countries is now increased from 350 MW to 1,000 MW.
The project plays an important role in the integration of energy markets between Baltic and Scandinavian countries, opening up access to renewable energy sources and generating revenue resources.
It is also a significant step toward meeting the goals of the European Union’s Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan (BEMIP), which aims to integrate Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia with EU transmission networks and energy markets.
The EstLink 2 project spans a total of 170 kilometers. Power is transmitted over some 14 kilometers of overhead line in Finland, some 145 kilometers of submarine cable laid on the bottom of the Gulf of Finland, and some 11 kilometers of underground land cable in Estonia.
Siemens was responsible for designing the HVDC system as a monopolar connection with metallic return conductor.
This turnkey project included delivering, installing and commissioning of the complete HVDC converter stations, excluding the overhead line and power cable part in between the stations.
Total value of the converter station turnkey project was à¢â€š¬100 million—about one-third of the total EstLink 2 interconnection budget.
Prysmian Group completes Southeast Asia’s longest undersea cable system
|Phu Quoc Island, home to some of Vietnam’s most beautiful beaches, is now connected to the national power grid in Vietnam after Prysmian Group completed operations for the construction and execution of a submarine power cable link.|
Prysmian Group, an energy and telecom cables and systems company, has completed operations for the construction and execution of the submarine power cable link to connect Phu Quoc Island to the national power grid in Vietnam.
The turnkey project refers to a contract awarded in May 2012 by the Vietnamese utility EVNSPC (Southern Power Corp. under Vietnam Electricity) worth a total of à¢â€š¬67 million for the design, supply, installation and commissioning of the submarine interconnection.
Situated 45 kilometers west of Ha Tien town, Kien Giang province in southern Vietnam, Phu Quoc Island is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam. The submarine cable link plays a major role in the province’s 2020 socioeconomic development master plan aimed at making Phu Quoc Island a special administrative-economic zone by the end of the decade, serving as a national and international center for high-end ecotourism and entertainment and particularly significant in security and national defense. The Phu Quoc link is the first submarine power cable link installed by a utility in Vietnam and South East Asia’s longest undersea cable system.
The Phu Quoc cable connection comprises some 56 kilometers of 3×630 mm² 110-kV copper, single-wire armoured XLPE insulated submarine cable manufactured in the group’s worldwide reputed technology excellence center during 2013. After a long trip from Italy across the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, the Prysmian cable-laying vessel Cable Enterprise and its team of specialized personnel and equipment installed the submarine cable, which was also successfully commissioned ready for operations.
Prysmian completed the project ahead of schedule after two months and just in time to begin operation on the occasion of the 2014 Lunar New Year holiday. Effective Feb. 2, power supply to the island is provided exclusively by way of the group’s cable.
The Feb. 6 inauguration ceremony for the interconnection was attended by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Standing Secretary of Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam Làƒª Hàƒ´ng Anh and several politicians and dignitaries from the Central Hanoi Government, as well as the Italian Ambassador to Vietnam.
Case Study: Hydro-Quebec increases customer self-care, improves customer satisfaction
In 2010, Montreal-based public utility Hydro-Quebec was generating 44 GW of power annually and serving more than 4 million customers with differing needs.
Hydro-Quebec’s aspiration was to increase operational efficiency while improving customer satisfaction and loyalty across all channels, especially in light of rising prices. The challenge was to achieve both by transforming the customer experience. To attain its goals, the utility approached consultants at Capgemini.
Hydro-Quebec needed to transform its operations to better leverage its channel mix, serve customers more effectively and set itself up for success in the face of rapid technological and customer change.
The agreed upon approach involved increasing the use of customer self-care from 40 to 60 percent by 2014 to achieve the utility’s objectives. Hydro-Quebec launched an ambitious program to transform the customer experience in parallel with information technology (IT) capabilities.
Capgemini’s extensive experience enabled the utility to support every aspect of the program, from governance and benefits tracking to the change management program.
Capgemini worked closely with Hydro-Quebec to understand and distil the utility’s customer experience vision for the future and identified the key benefits. The pair developed an ambitious multichannel strategy and transformation road map in parallel with the design and implementation of an IT road map. The core focus was a renewal of the contact center and Web portal, combined with customer relationship management (CRM) implementation, bringing the scope to three major projects. To accelerate the internal transformation and ensure longevity of the benefits delivered, Hydro-Quebec set up a new customer experience division.
The transformation program with strong strategy, governance and road map equipped Hydro-Quebec with the tools and skills needed to respond to rapid change in the external environment with confidence and expertise.
The overhauled Web offering and support for new digital touch points has delivered significant early efficiency gains with improved completion rates for the new self-service offering.
Hydro-Quebec has achieved best-in-class customer experience and improved operational efficiency through digital services. As consumers become more technically advanced and expect an increasingly integrated and personal experience across multiple channels, Hydro-Quebec is in a strong position to meet customers’ needs now and in the future by providing an integrated, convenient and personalized experience.
ABB wins $60 million order to strengthen Quebec power grid
ABB, the power and automation technology group, has won an order worth some $60 million from Hydro-Quebec, Canada’s leading power utility, to replace vital components of its ultra-high voltage transmission system that helps transport clean hydroelectric power from North to South Quebec. The order was booked in the fourth quarter of 2013.
As part of the order, ABB will upgrade two Static Var Compensators (SVC) at the Albanel substation, about 500 kilometers north of Montreal, that provide fast-acting reactive power compensation for the 735-kV electricity network. The upgrades are scheduled to be completed by 2016.
“This upgrade will significantly extend the life of the SVCs and substantially reduce electrical losses,” said Claudio Facchin, head of ABB’s Power Systems division. “ABB is a global leader when it comes to FACTS solutions with an extensive global installed base, and we are delighted to work with Hydro-Quebec on this project.”
SVCs are part of ABB’s family of FACTS (flexible alternating current transmission systems) technologies, which help enhance the capacity and flexibility of power transmission systems and contribute to the evolution of smarter grids. They compensate for fluctuations in the voltage and current of an electric grid, thereby allowing more power to flow through the network while maintaining network safety and stability.
FACTS solutions allow more power to reach consumers through the existing transmission network. This results in lower investment costs and shorter implementation times than the traditional alternative of building new power plants and transmission lines, with the added benefit of minimizing environmental impact. They also help address voltage and frequency stability issues and enable the transmission system to run more efficiently. ABB has delivered more than 800 such installations across the world.
Hydro-Quebec generates, transmits and distributes electricity. Its sole shareholder is the Quàƒ©bec government. It uses mainly renewable generating options, in particular hydropower, and supports the development of other technologies—such as wind energy and biomass—through purchases from independent power producers. It also conducts R&D in energy-related fields, including energy efficiency.
Glendale Water & Power Expands Customer Engagement With CEIVA Energy
Glendale Water & Power (GWP) and CEIVA Energy, a utility-controlled home energy management system (HEMS) provider, announced they will expand their customer engagement program. Based on the success of the initial deployment, GWP and CEIVA will work together to deliver additional energy savings tools to customers, including smart thermostats. The pilot program expansion will reach more than six times as many Glendale, Calif., residential customers as in the initial deployment, helping GWP reach its energy efficiency, demand response and customer engagement goals.
The expanded customer engagement pilot program will give Glendale homeowners access to comprehensive services provided by the CEIVA Homeview platform. All customers will continue to receive CEIVA’s “glanceable” in-home display, which collects data directly from homeowners’ digital meters, analyzes the data and converts it into compelling, personalized messages and visuals. The display then presents these messages alongside cloud-based personal photos and engaging conservation messages to support the utility’s goals. The expanded deployment also will offer all participants a programmable communicating thermostat and tie in directly with GWP’s demand response program, enabling customers to dramatically save on energy costs during peak demand.
GWP and CEIVA recently announced strong survey results from their initial pilot program rollout. Deploying just the in-home display and cloud services, GWP customers reported a ninefold improvement in understanding their energy consumption. Eighty-three percent of respondents reported changing their behavior to reduce energy and water use after joining the CEIVA pilot program.
“After seeing the impressive customer feedback from our initial deployment with CEIVA, expanding the program to help more Glendale residents reduce their energy costs was an easy decision,” said Steve Zurn, general manager of GWP. “The next phase of the pilot program gives GWP more ways to engage with a larger customer base by offering the addition of smart thermostats that gives customers the tools to reduce their energy usage. As a result, we’ll be able to offer the right mix of targeted programs to boost engagement around energy use and help our customers reduce energy costs even further.”
In addition to providing clear benefits to GWP customers, the CEIVA Energy program will provide GWP with several additional utility services, including:
- The Entryway software suite, which will allow GWP to analyze home energy use, monitor HEMS devices and deliver residential demand response;
- Integration of the Programmable Communicating Thermostat with Entryway and the Homeview display, presenting energy use tied with specific heating and cooling behavior directly to customers; and
- Product licensing, implementation, integration, training and ongoing maintenance and service.
Unitil Launches Safety Education Website for Contractors
As construction season approaches, Unitil, a provider of natural gas and electricity to customers in New England, encourages workers to learn how to stay safe around gas and electric infrastructure before they arrive at the job site this spring.
Each year, accidents occur in situations where third-party contractors fail to follow safety guidelines when operating near utility equipment. These preventable accidents might result in serious injuries to contractors, plus Occupational Safety and Health Administration fines and increased insurance costs for business owners.
With the launch of Unitil’s new e-SMART Worker website, www.unitil.e-smartonline.net/worker, contractors have a new way to access vital information every worker should know before working near electrical and natural gas lines.
Unitil’s e-SMART Worker website features power line and pipeline safety tips, instructional videos, case studies and an interactive quiz, all designed to help educate and protect the public.
“At Unitil, safety is our top priority, and we are pleased to offer an interactive way to learn how to reduce risk on the job,” said Carol Valianti, Unitil vice president of communications and public affairs. “We strongly encourage contractors and their employees to take advantage of the last few weeks of winter to educate themselves about how to stay safe around utility lines before construction season begins.”
Unitil’s e-SMART Worker website also includes a portal where trainers can download free educational materials including a comprehensive guide that addresses everything trainers need to run an effective safety education session, such as learning preferences, room setup tips, a pre- and post-quiz, and ideas for discussion and activities. Trainers also may use the e-SMART Worker website to order free training materials such as booklets, visor cards and brochures to help teach employees about the latest utility-related safety information.
Saft Delivers First ADRES Battery With Renewable Energy Integration to Army
Saft, a designer and manufacturer of advanced technology batteries for industry, delivered the Advanced Deployable Renewable Energy System (ADRES) batteries to the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC). Funded through CERDEC, Saft developed the portable power source to provide integrated charge capabilities to receive power from AC and DC power sources, including renewables such as solar and wind.
The ADRES will help the U.S. military reduce energy and fuel consumption while increasing its reliance on renewable energy sources. The mobile battery will be used for forward-operating bases (FOB) to power equipment and to power critical mission equipment on ground military vehicles. Specifically, the ADRES supplies 28-volt DC power output to run the electronics on and off the vehicles without turning the engine on for reliable safety and performance during silent watch missions. The system can be used for various military and nonmilitary applications that require moveable energy in the field.
The ADRES battery incorporates Saft’s latest MIL-STD-1275 compliant 28-volt power and control electronics in a 46-pound rugged, stackable design enclosure. The 1.2-kWh, 52Ah battery can be connected in parallel to meet increased kilowatt-hour needs as required. The battery offers a built-in charger that accepts both AC (110/220VAC) and DC (10-36VDC) inputs. The system also includes a 5V, 1.5A USB Power Port with an Environmental Connector Cover and CANBus communications technology that relays vital information, such as state-of-charge, cell voltages and temperatures, and battery diagnostics. The battery uses field-proven Li-ion technology, which allows for high technical readiness level assessment and allowance for rapid fielding.
Most recently, Saft was chosen by DLA to conduct a manufacturing technology program for the ADRES product. The agreement will increase the manufacturability of the design and incorporate Saft’s Super Phosphate (SLFP) cell technology. As part of the project, the SLFP ADRES will be evaluated for use on the Enhanced Long-Range Advanced Scout Surveillance System (eLRAS3). The SLFP ADRES integration with the eLRAS3 system provides the military with increased capability and agility compared with the current battery system used today.
SWEPCO Line Meets More Resistance in Missouri
by Rosy Lum, TransmissionHub
Two Missouri lawmakers, state Reps. Scott Fitzpatrick and Bill Lant, on Feb. 18 introduced House Bill (H.B.) 1774 to the 97th General Assembly to repeal certain allowances in the power of eminent domain.
Specifically, the proposed legislation grants utilities the power of eminent domain except in cases where an electric transmission line originates and terminates in a state other than Missouri while traversing counties or cities with a certain number of inhabitants.
The legislation targets Southwestern Electric Power Co.’s (SWEPCO’s) proposed 345-kV Shipe Road to Kings River project, which originates and ends in Arkansas but runs for 25 miles of its total 56-mile length in Missouri.
It isn’t the first time the lawmakers have proposed legislation to block the project. On Jan. 28, Fitzpatrick and Lant, whose districts the proposed line would touch, introduced H.B. 1622, which states that the Missouri Public Service Commission does not have the jurisdiction to approve an electric transmission facility that originates and terminates in a state other than Missouri, while traversing counties or cities with a certain number of inhabitants.
An Arkansas administrative law judge (ALJ) on Jan. 17 approved SWEPCO’s proposed transmission line, recommending Route 109 as the best option over the company’s preferred Route 33, which was sited entirely within Arkansas (Docket No. 13-041-U). Recommending Route 109 triggered the need to acquire permits from Missouri regulators.
“Because the Arkansas Public Service Commission has designated Route 109 as reasonable because of its “Ëœlesser impact on residential areas and lesser aesthetic impact’ with regard to Arkansas residents, the general assembly of this state declares that it shall have sole jurisdiction to approve or disapprove the construction of any electric transmission line that originates and terminates in a single state other than Missouri,” while traversing counties or cities with a certain number of inhabitants, according to H.B. 1622.
The route begins at the Shipe Road station in Benton County, Ark., runs north to the Missouri border where it turns east, then continues along the border until it reaches a point northeast of Gateway, Mo., where it turns south, continues along a southeasterly path, passes near Lake Leatherwood City Park in Eureka Springs, Ark., and comes to an end at the proposed Kings River station in Carroll County, Ark.
The project is estimated to cost $123.3 million.
Missouri approval is necessary for the project to move forward. The transmission line already has received Arkansas approval. The deadline for the Arkansas Public Service Commission to respond to the ALJ’s recommendation to approve the project passed in late February, resulting in approval by default.
Arkansas commissioners had 30 days to respond to the recommendation. In the absence of action, the ALJ’s recommendation becomes the order of the commission.
SWEPCO is a subsidiary of American Electric Power Co. Inc.
Rosy Lum is chief analyst for POWERGRID International’s sister publication TransmissionHub. Reach her at email@example.com or 347-799-2802.
Rocky Mountain Institute: Widespread Customer Defection From Electric Grid Possible by 2025
The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), Homer Energy and CohnReznick Think Energy (CRTE) on Feb. 25 released a report that details the potential for appreciable customer defection from the electric grid in major markets by 2025 without higher costs or lower reliability.
The report shows that as the hybrid combination of solar photovoltaic (PV) and battery storage becomes cost-competitive with retail grid electricity rates, migration of customers away from the grid could happen well within the 30-year planned economic life of typical utility investments such as central thermal generation plants and transmission infrastructure.
In the first installment of two reports, RMI, Homer and CRTE outline the possible scenarios in five U.S. regions—Hawaii, California, Kentucky, Texas and New York—and identify when solar PV and storage combinations could disrupt existing utility business models. The continuing decline of solar PV and battery storage costs, coupled with increasing retail electricity prices, has resulted in grid parity today for commercial customers in Hawaii. The most optimistic projections, based on certain solar and efficiency targets’ being met, depict grid parity for millions of residential and commercial customers in New York and California within this decade.
Key takeaways from the report include:
- A considerable number of utility customers likely will see favorable defection economics within 10 years;
- Utilities likely will experience significant revenue decay before defection; and
- The likelihood of favorable long-term customer defection signals the eventual demise of traditional utility regulatory models.
“While other distributed generation options still require some degree of grid dependence, solar plus storage provides an opportunity for customers to cut the cord to their utility entirely,” said Jon Creyts, RMI managing director. “To remain competitive, utilities need to understand how to leverage hybrid systems within the electricity system.”
Even before total grid defection becomes a reality, utilities will see further revenue decline because solar plus battery systems sized to meet most of a customer’s load will become cost-effective sooner. In addition, other motivating factors such as customer desire for increased power reliability and low-carbon electricity generation are driving early adopters ahead of grid parity.
To best compete, property owners and developers must understand how distributed generation and storage is changing energy economics, said Mark Crowdis, CRTE founder and president.
“By assessing the impact of these new technologies and the innovative contracting approaches that support them, property owners can be at the leading edge of this new market, ensuring long-term financial savings for their properties,” Crowdis said.
The second installment of the report will offer solutions for how utilities might rethink the threat of such hybrid resources and unlock opportunities through new business models—within existing regulatory frameworks or under an evolved regulatory landscape—to better capture the value of distributed resources.
IEC Approves OpenADR Specification
The OpenADR Alliance announced Feb. 25 that the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has approved the OpenADR 2.0b Profile Specification as a Publicly Available Specification (PAS) IEC/PAS 62746-10-1 as a basis for a new commission standard to be developed.
“Growing international interest and support for the OpenADR 2.0 standard is driving us to get it established as an IEC standard,” said Barry Haaser, managing director of the OpenADR Alliance. “By having this PAS in place, utilities and governments worldwide can confidently adopt the OpenADR standard for their AutoDR programs. In turn, companies developing products can confidently promote their solutions worldwide, as there is strong global support for the OpenADR standard.”
The IEC is an international standards organization that prepares and publishes international standards for all electrical and electronic industries.
Richard Schomberg, chairman of IEC PC 118 and the IEC System Evaluation Group Smart Grid, said the alliance is working with several IEC committees: TC 57, PC118, and TC 65.
“The OpenADR PAS should help support the IEC standardization process with the various technical committees and working groups interested in embracing the standard,” he said.More PowerGrid International Issue Articles
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