Transforming utility customer service: Helping C&I companies meet 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 seeks to explore how utilities are helping customers meet sustainability goals and facilitate a transition to a low-carbon future. A series of case studies will be presented that illustrate the various ways in which utilities are enabling a clean energy future for customers through strategies such as energy efficiency, strategic electrification, and enabling increased renewable energy consumption.

The 2019 Deloitte Resources study provides insight into how customer priorities and motivations are evolving regarding energy consumption and resource management. More business customers are reporting resource management goals – almost 90 percent of respondents said they had some type of resource management goals in 2019, with a nine percent increase from 2016 in the number of businesses with formal goals.

The setting of formal goals that are released to the public tend to make companies more accountable and transparent as they work towards those sustainability goals. More businesses are participating in utility energy management programs; in fact, the Deloitte survey showed an eight percent increase in participation in demand response programs since 2017. When asked what was driving their resource management programs, 39 percent of businesses responded that it was just the right thing to do, and 26 percent said it was part of a broader corporate social responsibility program. What is increasingly clear is that businesses are becoming more concerned about sustainability, and their publicly facing actions reflect that sentiment.

Another study, the Schneider Electric 2019 Corporate Energy & Sustainability Progress Report, offers some key insights into why the utility-customer relationship is so critical in helping customers meet sustainability goals. The global survey reached out to 309 individuals working at corporations with over $100 million in annual revenue. The survey showed that 89 percent of firms used utility bills as a source for energy and sustainability data, 73 percent used energy management systems, 52 percent used spreadsheets, 48 percent used utility data extracts, and 18 percent used Internet of Things (IoT) devices. This is important because utility generated data, in addition to the products utilities generally incentivize through energy efficiency programs, are the main sources of data that companies use when they set and execute on sustainability goals. As the famous saying goes, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” The provision of data and access to benchmarking tools is a critical component in the utility-customer relationship, and in most cases, is necessary for businesses to develop a case for sustainability projects.

Utilities are well-positioned to help customers confront the challenges associated with implementing aggressive conservation and sustainability goals as they are a trusted energy advisor.  Increasingly customers are looking for holistic sustainability solutions that may encompass more than just traditional energy efficiency. New and emerging energy efficiency programs focus on deeper retrofit savings with some new programs electrifying building thermal needs, predominately through the installation of heat pumps. Many energy efficiency programs also provide incentives for energy management systems (EMS) or connected devices. This is critical because, as noted in the Schneider Electric survey, these devices are key sources of energy-related data for companies. Additionally, the Schneider survey notes that companies with an EMS have historically been more successful in developing a business case for sustainability projects.

While utility energy efficiency programs are well established in many areas and remain a key pathway for customers to manage their resources and reduce their energy footprint, customers are looking for solutions that also address transportation emissions and renewable energy. One way in which utilities are helping customers reduce their overall energy usage and carbon footprint is through enabling electric vehicle (EV) adoption. Utility efforts have been focused on providing incentives for EV chargers and the infrastructure leading up to chargers, helping to enable charging for medium and heavy-duty vehicles, and managing the load associated with vehicles while they are charging.

In terms of renewables, the Deloitte Resources study found that more than 70 percent of businesses are publicizing the amount of electricity that they are procuring from renewable sources. Many utilities are already procuring renewable energy on behalf of their customers on a scale that helps drive down costs and are also helping customers interconnect more distributed energy resources, such as solar, directly at their facilities. More sophisticated customers are looking to not only reduce emissions but also increase resiliency and support their communities through projects like microgrids.

Over the course of this series of articles, we will explore the utility-customer relationship as it evolves to meet the challenges of climate change. Future articles will capture the perspectives of customers and utilities alike. While customers face financial, social, and shareholder challenges related to sustainability, they have a committed partner in their utility.

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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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