As we enter a new decade, it’s time to reflect on the advances the energy industry made in the past year and discuss what lies ahead in 2020. Utilities are accelerating innovation, delivering new connected services and solutions to their customers. Through this connectivity, customers are managing distributed energy resources, tapping into time-of-use rates, and connecting electric vehicles. For utilities, this connectivity continues to strengthen customer relationships – driving deeper engagement while helping utilities expand their role. As this transformation within the energy industry continues to speed up, it makes you wonder, what changes will 2020 bring to the utility and energy industry?
To give us some insight, we asked a panel of industry insiders to give us their predictions for the year ahead –
- Tim Mosley – Senior Program Manager, BC Hydro
- Jennifer Szaro – Vice President of Research, Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA)
- Nathan Shannon – Deputy Director, Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC)
- Christopher Moyer – Director of Content and Research, Zpryme
1. How do you think new technology (i.e home energy management, DR platforms, residential solar, battery, smart home devices) will shape utility transformation in 2020?
Tim Mosley, Sr. Program Manager, BC Hydro: Customers are adopting a great deal of new technology like smart speakers, smart thermostats, smart plugs and other smart devices. They are buying this technology left, right, and center. Smart home technology is opening the door to a new engagement and communication channel for utilities. Utilities have to figure out the best way to leverage it. The smart home device manufacturers can offer the convenience and core functionality of the devices themselves, but it is utilities that are able to elevate that smart home value proposition by providing energy consumption data and analytics. Our secret sauce is our ability to provide users or manufacturers with personalized energy management insights, which are really brought to life by this technology. We are in the position now to make energy management interesting, relatable and even more accessible to customers through platforms with smart home technology. I expect to see more and more utilities utilizing smart home technology in 2020 as a way to engage and empower customers to make good energy choices.
Jennifer Szaro, VP of Research, SEPA: In 2020, I see eMobility as a big game changer and as something that will affect existing utility business processes, grid systems, and grid controls. More utilities will either recommend, directly market, or utilize 3rd party platforms to market home energy systems and smart home devices to their customers. As a result, utilities will gain a larger percentage of their customers enrolled in DR programs, innovative rate programs, and home energy efficiency programs enabled by these systems and devices. Furthermore, utilities will engage in technology partnerships inclusive of start-ups to achieve technology innovation that helps motivate the customer to decarbonize their home footprint. Some of this technology will be predictive analytics for stronger targeting and marketing efforts by utilities, while other technology will be directed at home devices or services. Utilities will pursue innovation in a way that requires involvement much earlier in the hype cycle for new technology and service opportunities – whereby traditional utility technology thought-leadership processes took a wait-and-see perspective.
Nathan Shannon, Deputy Director, SECC: New technology, including smart home devices and digital platforms, will increasingly come into its own as a channel for engaging consumers. Over 60 percent of Americans now have smart meters and the digital capabilities that those bring, and voice assistants and smart thermostats have considerably more market penetration than just one or two years ago. This technology allows electricity providers to meet consumers where they are and, if utilized appropriately, can help boost engagement and satisfaction.
Christopher Moyer, Senior Director of Research and Content, Zpryme: Customer-centric technologies impacting the utility industry are not new, but 2020 will bring a convergence of solar, battery, and energy management systems that will speed up transformation. Forward-looking utilities must move quickly to create programs that incentive customers using all three of these services within a grid-centric marketplace. This will simultaneously drive up customer satisfaction and ensure reliability on the more distributed grid.
2. What do you think will be the biggest change(s) in 2020 for the utility as they continue to shift to a more customer-centric focus?
Tim Mosley, Sr Program Manager, BC Hydro: Right now, utilities are in the midst of a great deal of transformation that is being propelled forward by customer adoption of new technology. This technology ranges from EV’s, to new heating systems, to smart home tech. To be able to take full advantage of this technology and engage customers through it, utilities will start prioritizing the deployment of the necessary IT infrastructure to securely exchange data between the utility, the consumer and the technology companies. Customers expect a frictionless experience in all their transactions these days. Dealing with a utility is no exception. For example, using digital voice assistants to conduct transactions or get billing information in a few seconds rather than spending time on the call center phone line or having the complexity of logging-in and searching via a web browser. To make this frictionless requires proven and secure user authentication software and IT infrastructure that utilities will need to invest in.
Jennifer Szaro, VP of Research, SEPA: As we move into 2020, I expect to see greater exploration and implementation of new business models in response to new technologies, regulatory expectations, and expanding customer awareness and participation. Utilities will develop home energy storage and home EV charging integration processes and systems to minimally monitor them. Increasing focus will be placed on using these assets to provide grid services. Utilities will continue to engage with governments and agencies on local efforts to decarbonize regions through a multitude of ‘smart community’ initiatives, including electric vehicle charging, smart lighting, storage applications, emergency sensors, etc. Utility community engagement efforts will be heightened beyond traditional government affairs interactions covering workforce development, construction, and give-back campaigns.
Nathan Shannon, Deputy Director, SECC: The biggest change for electricity providers will be the continued cultural transformation to an organization that is truly customer-centric. This means a lot of internal changes for providers, including new metrics for measuring customer success and the reorganization of existing departments and the creation of new customer-centric teams. Some providers are also increasingly adding chief customer officer roles to have a customer-centric voice in the C-suite.
Christopher Moyer, Senior Director of Research and Content, Zpryme: 2020 will see the acceleration of strategic decarbonization plans. While policy and regulation kickstarted this change, utilities are eager to meet customer demand for cleaner power and that will mean more energy efficiency and more renewables.
3. What do you think is the biggest change that NEEDS to occur within the utility or energy industry in 2020?
Tim Mosley, Sr Program Manager, BC Hydro: In 2020, utilities really need to be able to align utility time scales with new technology products. Utilities have always been more cautious when it comes to change and implement new technology and infrastructure. In contrast, technology lifecycles move very quickly. Products come and go at a very fast rate. Utilities have a hard time keeping up with this flux and therefore find it more challenging to pick the right products to invest in or leverage. How can we know if a product or company will be around in one year’s time, let alone 10 years? And if they are around, will customers still want the product by the time it is fully implemented? We need to get to grips with technology like DERMs, batteries, and consumer-facing smart energy technology like Powerley – and I think we have definitely started down that path.
Jennifer Szaro, VP of Research, SEPA: Over the next year, we will need to see an evolution of the regulatory structures and processes to more easily accommodate new technology and new utility business models. Utilities need to ramp up investment in control and coordination technologies (DERMS, ADMS, SCADA) and system integration to allow customer adoption of new technologies where they are now utility capability constrained. Additionally, utilities will need to embrace new service platforms directly through planning paradigms and forecasting techniques that value distributed generation at the operations level, not just in asset management and forecasting.
Nathan Shannon, Deputy Director, SECC: While electricity providers have made strides in being more customer-centric in recent years, there’s still a lot of opportunity for improvement. SECC’s consumer research has shown that consumers are ready for new offerings for their providers – including alternative rates, smart home technology, mobile apps and more – but participation is still somewhat low in many instances. For 2020, providers should focus on education and awareness of new program offerings, especially to eco-conscious and tech-savvy consumer segments that are considerably more interested in them.
Christopher Moyer, Senior Director of Research and Content, Zpryme: The biggest change utilities need to make is a move towards 100% decarbonized energy, but this is a generational challenge. It is unreasonable to expect that January 2021 will see the grid be powered only by solar, wind, and hydro. However, utilities can make significant progress towards decarbonization by changing how they engage with their customers. Utilities need to help their customers understand power, how they are using it, and how they can contribute to decarbonized energy future.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
Tim is the Sr. Program Manager for Advanced DSM strategies at BC Hydro. Currently, he is working on the development of programs related to IoT and smart home technologies with the sole intent of providing better energy management tools for the 4 million customers of BC Hydro. With the smart home revolution having brought many new technologies and service providers to the forefront, Mosley’s role is focused on developing new partnerships, alliances and promotional programs that leverage this exciting new world.
Jennifer currently leads SEPA’s research and education programs. Her research areas for SEPA includes: solar, electric vehicles, microgrids, demand response, energy IoT integration, energy storage, regulatory innovation, stakeholder engagement strategies, and DER integration technologies.
Nathan came on as Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative’s Deputy Director in early 2015. In this role, he is responsible for advancing a consumer-friendly, consumer-safe smart grid through research and education. Along with his work on the Research and Policy committees, Nathan also leads member recruitment and engagement and routinely presents SECC research at major industry conferences and policy workshops.
As the Senior Director of Research and Content at Zpryme, Christopher leads a passionate team that produces breakthrough content on the transformation of the energy and utility industries to a more digital, environmentally sustainable and customer-centric future. This research is centered around digitalization, decentralization, and decarbonization of physical infrastructure — including energy, water, transportation, and communications.