Creating a New Customer Experience

I just attended CS Week Conference 33 in Washington, D.C., where I heard a lot about connecting and communicating with customers.

For the most part, utilities communicate little with their customers, and vice versa. Customers are interested in their utilities only when the bills come or when the electricity goes out. The same is pretty much true for utilities. They send their customers a bill each month; some include an informative insert or newsletter with those bills. And, utilities’ customer service representatives speak with a few customers via the phone, usually when those customers have questions about their bills or problems with their service. Although this limited and impersonal communication has been adequate in the past, many customer service experts believe it is no longer enough.

The smart grid, smart meters, energy efficiency (EE) and demand response (DR) are gaining momentum. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes funds for such projects and has been key in increasing interest in them. But even before the bill was passed, many utilities planned to implement such programs to help them meet future electricity demand. Much of the technology required to implement these programs is now available and utilities are rolling out smart metering, EE and DR programs. Technology alone, however, will not make these projects successful. The customer experience must change. Utilities must connect and communicate with their customers and entice them to change their behavior. Without a change in the way customers use electricity, neither customers nor utilities will benefit from the smart grid and the programs built around it.

Richard Sergel, National Electric Reliability Corp.’s (NERC’s) president and CEO, was the keynote speaker on the final day of CS Week. The shell—wires, meter and customer service connection—exists, he said, but creating a new energy conscience will require more. Utilities must find ways to change the customer experience and they must do it soon, within five years, he said.

Many of these customer experiences will begin at the meter. In this issue, you’ll read about some of the country’s largest automated metering infrastructure implementations, but you’ll also read about FERC’s annual Demand Response and Advanced Metering study, which points out that fewer than 5 percent of customers are being offered a new customer experience.

If Sergel is correct when he says utilities must change customers’ behavior within the next five years, then there is much to be done. I look forward to reporting on and keeping you informed about the changes ahead.

To the editor

FROM: H. Lee Smith
TO: Kathleen Davis
SENT: Tuesday, May 12. 12:38 p.m.
SUBJECT: May issue article: DNP3 vs. IEC 61850


I was very disappointed by your article; many of us in both protocol camps have been fighting to change this misconception of a battle. I, as well as many others, have been involved with both protocols from the beginning of each. I suggest you would have been better served to talk with a wider audience than just one person.

Some points you missed: some U.S. utilities are using both protocols on the same LAN in the same substation—for example, Goose messages for protection functions and DNP3 for automation functions.

A number of vendors and utilities are striving to use the 61850 models for system configuration for DNP3 and other protocols. This includes using XML first proposed by 61850 for the configuration definition. Check the current DNP3 requirements for device data profile definition.

When we first identified the protocols being used in substations in the early 1990s, there were over 120 separate and defined variations; we are now down to a half dozen with half of those being European legacy protocols.

Many of us choose to think we are not involved in a battle but rather an evolutionary process that will ultimately benefit all. I only wish I had been able to review these points with you before you published your article.

Best Regards,
H. Lee Smith, PE
President DNP Users Group
Vice President Business Development
DC Systems

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