By 2050, the world population will near 10 billion. As a result, electricity, natural gas and water demand will triple as more vehicles and mass transit come onto the grid. Clean, dependable and affordable energy obviously becomes a top priority - but how does this massive shift in energy production and consumption affect the average utility customer?
Jackie Robinson, Training Lead for DTE Energy Billing System Replacement Project is painfully aware of the amount of energy it already takes (hint: it's a lot) to power today’s digital society that expects instant access to devices and information. Robinson also knows that fulfilling the needs of today's "always on" culture is a huge challenge that rests squarely on the shoulders of the utility industry.
“We are going through a revolution right now,” said Robinson. “We’ve got to make our energy services more reliable and sustainable than ever before. People may think it might be an impossible task for an industry that’s been around for a long time, but we need to do it in order to power society. It reminds me of a quote from Spiderman: With great power, comes great responsibility.”
In order to power society to keep pace with digital demand, Robinson believes the industry must come to terms with how customers perceive their utility providers, most of whom take the modern conveniences of power for granted. Backup systems, for instance, are “kind of gone at this point”, according to Robinson due to the expectation that power will always be on and phones will always work.
James McLelland, Senior Global Director for SAP Energy and Utilities Industry Marketing, agrees, pointing out that the only time most of us talk to our utility company is usually when something goes wrong.
“If my power doesn’t come on or the water doesn’t go when I turn the tap on – that’s the only time that my utility talks to me,” he said. “Other than that, monthly bills are the only touch point we really have with our utility and everything else we take for granted.”
Getting smart about digital utilities
According to Robert Thiele, Senior Director at Open Text, the impact of digital and hyper connected devices is having a profound and positive impact on society. Providers like NXP, for instance, help people connect their smart thermostats to utility companies so they can opt in to take part in an energy efficiency programs by automatically lowering their temperature or their air condition when the utility company experiences peaks.
“It’s really connecting a different form of consumer device and a different user interface to partner services for the benefit of everybody,” said Thiele. “Ultimately customers glean more efficiencies, feel greener and hopefully save some money.”
While smart thermostats are a good start in re-defining the role of the utility companies, the key question is does this “utility” definition even work anymore with all of the transformations energy companies are going through?
“We see utility companies buying alarm companies and using their customer service infrastructure and the access to homes to provide additional services,” said Thiele. “Other utility companies define themselves as energy companies and they get into solar panel installations and provide additional services. It’s really changing the way they interact with their customers and the way they present and define their products. I’m not sure we’ll have the same definition of utility companies a few years from now.”