The Era of Smart Power Customer: Accelerating the Clean Energy Transition through Customer-Focused Solutions

Medium Friday, February 26th 2021

The clean energy transition and adoption of new technologies are enabling energy customers to play a more active role in the electricity market and contribute to decarbonization. But what is needed to accelerate the growth and empowerment of the “smart customer” and drive the switch to a cleaner, more flexible, and resilient grid?

To explore answers to this question, the latest Dynamo Energy Hub event, co-sponsored with NRG Energy, examined current trends and opportunities to enable customers to become more active participants and proponents in the clean energy transition.

Maria Woodman, Vice President, Innovation & Commercialization, at Energy Impact Partners, moderated the discussion and began by noting the timeliness of the conversation given recent weather events in Texas:

“Given some of the challenges of the past week in places affected by extreme weather, we now more than ever know the importance of keeping the customer front of mind when we are thinking about the work to transition to a clean energy future.” — Maria Woodman, Vice President, Innovation & Commercialization, Energy Impact Partners

Speakers from Con EdisonThe Megawatt HourNational Grid and NRG Energy, began the roundtable discussion with an overview of current trends and their efforts in customer engagement.

Raghu Sudhakara, Director of Electric Vehicles and Demonstration Projects at Con Edison, began by introducing a framework in how the clean energy transition is being driven by three key attributes:

1. Consumer Preference

2. Policy

3. Technology

The customer has come to the forefront of the transition as technology has given consumers the capability to make energy decisions and policy has driven customers to make new energy choices. These three forces have created a new definition of “smart customer,” by changing what a customer is able to do and what they want to do when considering their energy usage.

Sudhakara finds customers are most interested in:

1. Production of clean energy

2. Reducing use of energy

3. Better management of energy

Today’s customers expect to have granular energy usage information available from their energy service providers. Sudhakara concluded by noting that the biggest challenge right now for the utility is in increasing customer access to clean energy benefits in a more equitable manner.

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Deirdre Lord, President and Co-Founder of The Megawatt Hour, continued the discussion, noting similar trends in customer experience and expressing the importance of bringing energy usage information to customers.

“When customers have clear actionable information, they make great decisions, they are able to serve their needs and they can adapt to a changing energy landscape.” — Deirdre Lord, President and Co-Founder, The Megawatt Hour

Noting the growth of the dynamic distributed energy network, Lord explained that the framework of the energy landscape is changing such that customers are now central.

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Lord stressed that previous assumptions of customer apathy to energy usage are no longer valid. While cost is still a factor in customer decisions, it can no longer be assumed to be the dominant driver. Customers care about risk, reputation, and promoting good energy practices. By better understanding customer motivations for energy usage, providers can offer services that best respond to their needs.

Mona Chandra, Interim Marketing Manager, Customer Energy Management, National Grid continued the conversation, noting how National Grid plans to meet their net-zero goals by 2050 commitment by focusing on key areas, including:

1. Expanded energy efficiency and demand response

2. Integrating innovative technologies to decarbonize heat

3. Advancing clean transportation

However, Chandra said that better understanding of how to best reach their full customer base is key as they work to meet the net-zero by 2050 target. Specifically, finding ways to reach their moderate- and low-income customers and non-English speaking customers is a priority.

Increased customer consideration and engagement is where Scott Burns, Vice President, Retail Innovation, Customer Experience & Market Intelligence, NRG Energy Inc, picked up the discussion, noting how some of NRG’s early growth in customer engagement occurred after streamlining the visualization of energy bills. NRG has built a partnership with Google to help customers directly view their energy usage and how they compare to their neighbors.

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Source: NRG Energy

The goal, Burns describes, is to try and find ways to make it “as frictionless as possible” for customers to access and understand energy usage. When considering some customers are more eager for direct participation, Burns notes:

“There is a wide spectrum of customers, and as the younger generation becomes consumers, it’s things like making solar available to them for a very low cost and ensuring that the power is backed up by solar RECs (Renewable Electricity Certificates), these are choices that we’re enabling customers to make.” — Scott Burns, Vice President, Retail Innovation, Customer Experience & Market Intelligence, NRG Energy Inc.

Moderator Maria Woodman summarized the key insight from the conversation: the customer is not monolithic. While there is a commonality in destination, the solutions for ensuring that customers are part of the clean energy transition should be designed with all types of customers in mind. From innovations such as better electricity bill design to peer-to-peer energy trading, it is evident that as new technologies offer greater flexibility, the customer base is changing and adapting to meet their needs that increasingly include demand for cleaner energy. Conscientious solutions designed with the customer in mind will ultimately determine how well solutions are adopted and whether we transition to a clean energy economy effectively and seamlessly.

To listen to the replay of the panel discussion, visit the event page.

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