Industry consultant Deloitte LLP has released its annual reSources Study of electricity customers in the U.S., and it holds some interesting clues to what consumers think about their energy use and their power providers.
Photo by Deloitte LLP
A significant finding is that in spite of the perceived economic recovery, residential customers still want to keep their electric bills down. Most people say they routinely turn off lights and shut down electronics that are not in use, and they anticipate that their home energy use will not increase in the next year. Nearly half of the respondents were considering measures that required more of an investment, such as home insulation or appliance upgrades.
Keep in mind, however, that other studies—notably by The Shelton Group —show that consumers tend to think they are more efficient than they are. That perception can make it hard for utilities to promote efficiency measures and rebates. A utility program that helps residential customers track their energy use in real time might make them more receptive to other energy services offerings.
Most commercial customers interviewed for the survey said their businesses had energy management goals. With the goal of cutting costs and maintaining their competitive edge, businesses reduced their energy use by 12 percent in 2013, compared to 9 percent in 2011. More than 60 percent of respondents rated their company’s energy management efforts a four on a one-to-five scale where five is the highest score.
The study found that the maturity of energy management programs varied widely from business to business. Only about one-quarter of the surveyed companies required all their capital plans to consider energy management goals, and about one-third factored the current low cost of natural gas into their future plans. Utilities have a clear opportunity to help some of their most energy-intensive customers with long-range planning.
Another trend makes finding new ways for utilities to serve their customers more pressing. The study showed a growing interest among both residential and commercial customers in being self-reliant for their energy needs.
Although only 3 percent of the residential customers were actually investing in solar panels, more than one-quarter saw that as an action they might take in the future. The percentage was even higher among Generation Y consumers. Cost continues to be a barrier to solar installation across all groups—for now.
As with energy management, businesses have even more motivation to build their own energy supply, and the barriers are dropping. More than four in 10 business respondents are generating some portion of their electricity onsite, up from 33 percent in 2013. The highest proportion of businesses with distributed generation was in the healthcare, technology, media and telecommunications industries.
More than kilowatt-hours
There was some good news for utilities that are interested in expanding their traditional business model—customers said they were open to buying other products from their power providers.
The study asked about services such as cable TV, internet access, telephone service, home security systems and home automation systems. However, an enterprising power provider might consider adding energy planning and management services, solar gardens or electric vehicle chargers to that list, too.
A small percentage of customers reported increasing frequency in outages, but more than half blamed extreme weather events, not their utilities. Backup generators, the preferred strategy for coping with outages, are another product utilities might consider leasing.
A story in Utility Dive offers more analysis on the reSource Study, along with some useful graphs. Download the study summary, or contact Deloitte to obtain the full report.