Utility Dive lists Top 10 transformative trends: What do you think?

Transformation could be the most overused word in the electric utility industry these days. Big data, energy storage, the internet of things and electric vehicles are just a few of the technologies we are being told will change the way we do business forever.

But what utility professionals see on the ground may be quite different, both from what we hear and from what other utilities are dealing with. The trends that are actually affecting your utility depend on what part of the country you serve, what your customer base looks like and whether you are an investor-owned or public power utility.

To get a sense of where the utility industry is headed, the online magazine Utility Dive You are leaving WAPA.gov. recently identified 10 trends that seem destined to shape our near future:

10. Coal power in decline – Since 2009, 25 gigawatts (GW) of coal capacity has retired in the U.S., and another 25 GW of retirements are planned by 2022. However, the Environmental Protection Agency still expects coal to be a major fuel source for electricity generation through 2030.

9. Natural gas is growing fast – As market conditions and regulations push older coal generators into retirement, utilities are increasingly looking to gas plants to add reliable capacity quickly. Analysts still expect it to grow steadily over the coming decade and then switch to retirement between 2020 and 2030, a trend that could come sooner if natural gas prices rise from their historic lows.

8. Renewables reaching grid parity – Once dismissed as too expensive to be competitive, wind and solar—especially utility-scale—are reaching grid parity and often pricing out more traditional generation resources. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that wind could be the nation’s single greatest source of energy by 2050, comprising up to 35 percent of the fuel mix.

7. Utilities face growing load defection – With the rapid proliferation of rooftop solar, some customers are bypassing their local utility for their electricity needs, especially in a few markets such as Hawaii and California. Customers combining load management strategies with rooftop solar installations could purchase less power from their utility, and may even cut the cord altogether.

6. Utilities getting in on the solar game – A number of utilities are responding to load defection and consumer demand for clean energy by expanding into the solar industry, both in the utility-scale and rooftop markets. Community shared solar, which allows customers without suitable rooftops for solar to buy a few modules on a larger array, grew exponentially between 2014 and 2016.

5. Debates over rate design reforms and value of distributed energy resources (DERs) are heating up – Altering rate designs to properly value distributed resources is a trend that has largely grown out of retail net metering. This pays utility customers with solar the retail rate for the electricity they send back to the grid.

4. Utilities are modernizing the grid – Adding new utility-scale and distributed renewable capacity has increased the need for utilities to upgrade and modernize their transmission and distribution grids. Many of the regulatory initiatives underway to help determine the value of DERs also order their state’s utilities to prepare their distribution grids for increased penetrations of distributed resources.

3. Utilities buying into storage – Few technologies hold as much promise as energy storage for utilities looking to optimize their distribution grids and integrate more renewables. While the price for battery storage is still too high to make projects economical in regions with relatively inexpensive electricity, costs are coming down quickly.

2. Utilities becoming more customer-centric – Power companies used to think of their consumers simply as ratepayers, or even just “load,” but new home energy technologies and shifting customer expectations are pushing them to focus on individual consumers. Increasingly, utilities are seeing it in their best interests to market themselves to customers as “trusted energy advisors” of sorts.

1. Utility business models are changing – The common thread running through these trends is that they all are changing the way electric utilities have traditionally done business. Where utilities were once regulated monopolies, the growth of distributed resources is forcing them to rethink their business models. California and New York have captured most of the headlines for redefining the utilities’ role on the distribution grid, but other states have initiated their own dockets to transform business models.

It is likely that your utility has had to think about at least a few of these issues and may be grappling with more of them before long. Energy Services is here to help our customers manage these challenges and more. Contact your Energy Services representative to discuss how to turn transformation into your greatest opportunity.

Source: Utility Dive

Seminars cover California building code changes

California utilities have benefitted from strong building efficiency codes that have helped keep energy use constant in the state for decades. Power providers also appreciate the challenges building owners and developers face in complying with the toughest efficiency codes in the nation. Green Technology Training is offering a seminar You are leaving Western's site. that can help construction and real estate professionals, as well as utility key account staff and program managers, get up to speed on the latest revisions.

2016 Building Efficiency Standards: Changes and Challenges will cover the Title 24 changes that go into effect January 2017 for both residential and commercial buildings, from high performance walls and attics to lighting and lighting controls. With each round of revisions, the state’s Energy Code moves closer to the goal of zero net energy for all new construction. Staying up to date with its evolution will help utilities as they design new efficiency programs, update preferred contractor lists and advise commercial customers on retrofits.

For convenience, Green Technology is offering the seminar on multiple dates at locations throughout the state:

Attendees will be eligible to receive five Health, Safety and Welfare Continuing Education Units (CEUs) from the American Institute of Architects You are leaving Western's site. and .5 International Code Council You are leaving Western's site. CEUs for the course. Sessions will also offer Build it Green CEUs (one credit per hour) and Construction Management Association of America You are leaving Western's site. renewal points (one per hour). All registrants will receive a certificate of participation.

This training is a good opportunity to prepare your staff to support customers as they work toward creating the most efficient building stock in the country. Knowledge is power, and knowledge of the California Building Code is the power to become an indispensable resource your customers can rely on.

Customer service culture built, not born

As we roll into another year that promises unprecedented change in the utility industry, consider giving your organization a gift that can smooth the way forward: great customer service.

In a recent article in Intelligent Utility You are leaving Western's site., authors Patty Cruz and Rebecca Shiflea analyze practices at companies known for outstanding customer service and offer 10 steps utilities can take to cultivate a successful customer service culture:

  • 1. Engage leadership – Organizational philosophy starts at the top. Utility executives must communicate that everyone and every job exists to support delivering electricity to customers and community.
  • 2. Engage customers – The expectations customers have about utility services are changing. Use different avenues of outreach—public meetings, social media, focus groups, etc.—to learn about those expectations and design products and services to meet your customers’ needs.
  • 3. Hire the right people – With an aging workforce, utilities are likely to be doing a lot of recruiting and hiring during the next several years. Consider this an opportunity to look for candidates who have not only the right skills for the job, but also the right attitude to support a customer service culture.
  • 4. Cultural alignment – Improving the customer experience must be the responsibility of everyone in the organization, not just the customer service department. The structure, policies and procedures should also support those goals. Rigid policies can be a barrier to good customer service.
  • 5. Educate and train – Employee orientation is the place to start telling new hires what great service looks like at the utility. Explain how the interests of each employee are tied to the overall organization and how both benefit from improving service. Don’t limit training to new employees, either. Companies that are known for having the best customer service make training a continuous process.
  • 6. Retain the best – Make providing great service fun and rewarding. Even employees who do not directly interact with customers should understand how their work ultimately affects customers. Build a work environment that engages and motivates employees to improve performance, and your utility will attract and retain superior talent.
  • 7. Empower your employees – Provide customer-facing employees with a framework—the outcome should be favorable for the customer, not hurt the utility (e.g., financially, legally) and enhance the relationship between the organization and the customer—and let them explore innovative service solutions.
  • 8. Communicate service success – Recognizing and sharing employee accomplishments when they deliver exceptional customer service reinforces its importance to the organization. Examples of excellent customer service should be communicated both internally and externally.
  • 9. Reward and recognize excellent customer service – You get more of the behavior you reward, so develop ways to recognize and reward specific employees for their good service behaviors. When you conduct surveys on customer satisfaction and the quality of service, share the results with all employees so that everyone knows of the results and receives recognition for what is going well.
  • 10. Create and track metrics – The act of measuring can create a sense of competition in employees, and even encourage them to compete with their own records. Setting goals and measuring performance also provides the ability to hold individuals, groups and an entire organization accountable for the resulting success or failure.

Read the full article for more insights and examples of how utilities have improved their customer service programs. Happy New Year, and may all your customers be satisfied.

Source: Intelligent Utility, 12/11/15

A look ahead: APPA Customer Connections offers economic development training

Utilities support the economic health of their communities by providing reliable power at affordable rates, but they will discover they have much more to offer at the Customer Connections Conference You are leaving Western's site. Oct. 18-21 in Austin, Texas.

The American Public Power Association (APPA) has put together a full track of economic development sessions for not only utility professionals, but local officials and city staff, board members and regional economic development and marketing specialists, too. All are encouraged to attend the event at the APPA member rate.

Improve key account service
A roundtable session will kick off the economic development track on Monday morning, Oct. 19. Key account and economic development professionals will come together to discuss the best practices for working together toward common goals. Participants will learn how to identify roles and actions, as well as how to collaborate on projects to attract and retain businesses.

Customers Speak is an afternoon panel that brings the large customer into the mix. Representatives from Whole Foods, Samsung Austin Semiconductor and other Austin-based key accounts will talk about what they expect from utilities and what drives customer satisfaction and decisions on location and expansion.

Bring business to town
Strategies for making your community stand out as a business-friendly environment are the focus of two more sessions. Retail Recruitment: Tips and Strategies for Building Stronger Communities looks at proven techniques to recruit and retain retailers and foster local entrepreneurship.

Finding creative solutions and new opportunities in environmental regulations is the topic of Using Sustainability as an Economic Development Tool. Hear from utilities that turned energy efficiency and sustainable innovation into drivers for economic growth.

Set sites high
Location may still be king, but it does not have to be your community’s destiny. On Tuesday morning, Oct. 20, participants will learn from experts how to identify and market to the right sectors, and discover what selectors really want in a site. The session Using Analytics and Visualization to Create Economic Development Opportunities will provide tools for evaluating the assets in your service territory and focusing your economic development efforts.

Later that afternoon, Site Selection Panel: Business Trends 2015 delves deeper into the trends and location priorities currently driving economic development activity in a number of industry sectors. A panel of site locators will talk about what they’re looking for when they visit your community, meet with local leaders and go through the incentives and negotiations process.

Do it right
The final two panels look at best practices in economic development. Successful Economic Development from a Statewide Perspective explores the programs and policies that make Texas one of the best states for business. Economic development representatives from Texas talk about business recruitment and expansion, incentives to expand and cultivate industry clusters and creation of a unified and proactive approach to economic development.

The track raps up Wednesday, Oct. 21 with Utility Economic Development Best Practices: Roundtable Discussion. After hearing about a national survey on the topic and reviewing utility case studies on successful economic development projects, strategies and practices, attendees will have the chance to share their experiences. There will also be a discussion on how utilities measure the value of economic development efforts and how to articulate success.

Public power professionals involved in economic development, key accounts, energy services, marketing, public communications and customer service can contact APPA at 202-467-2921 to learn more about this educational and networking event. The International Economic Development Council You are leaving Western's site. recognizes the Customer Connections Conference as a professional development event and offers continuing education credits to attendees.

SRP recognized for excelling at customer service

Congratulations to Western customer Salt River Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SRP) for landing a spot on JD Power’s 2014 list of customer champions. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

J.D. Power selected the 2014 Customer Champions based on an independent and unbiased evaluation of customer feedback, opinions and perceptions gathered from J.D. Power studies conducted in the United States in 2013. The companies performed the highest among more than 600 evaluated brands across nine industries, based on the J.D. Power 5 Ps: People, Presentation, Price, Process and Product.

SRP’s accomplishment is even more impressive, given the industry’s current reputation for indifference—at best—to customer needs. The secret to the Arizona utility’s success, according to a story on the industry news site Intelligent Utility, You are leaving WAPA.gov. is making a priority of providing value to the consumer.

In the interview, SRP Chief Communications Executive Gena Trimble explained that customer service was SRP’s culture, and pointed to a menu of large and small programs that illustrate her point. Programs such as a prepayment service, time-of-use rates and collaborating with other utilities on energy-saving concepts keep the focus on customer needs. Every day, SRP employees share both negative and positive stories from inside and outside the company and industry. These “customer service minutes” give everyone a better understanding of customer issues and challenges.

Other factors that are key to supporting a customer service culture include hiring and cultivating employees who share that value, doing research to find out what customers want and investing in technology that improves operations. SRP Associate General Manager Mike Lowe also advises really listening to customers—easy to suggest, but not so easy to implement. Listening may involve monitoring channels, taking in feedback and making the effort to ask and follow up. These are time-consuming steps that ultimately pay off in loyal customers who are more likely to work with their utility through changing times. Source: Intelligent Utility, 9/16/14

Tension exists between good customer service, maintaining customer loyalty

The latest EcoPinion Consumer Survey from consulting firm DEFGRedirecting to a non-government site  points to a conflicted consumer landscape in terms of customer expectations. The Conflicted Consumer Landscape in the Utility Sector surveyed more 1,000 consumers to examine perceptions of customer service and the need for more options, including budget management tools, payment and pricing choices and new communications channels.

The findings indicate that the majority of customers feel that their utility is providing enough choices and the right amount of information. However, a subset of consumers strongly feel that they would choose a different energy provider if they could. There may be a disconnect between customer service and the overall customer experience or perception of the utility resulting in low or weak customer loyalty.

DEFG believes that utilities must address the majority of consumers as part of an overall customer strategy that results in deeper engagement, and specifically address the needs and concerns of the consumer subset to increase overall customer satisfaction. Read more.

You must register to download the report. Once you join DEFG’s mailing list, you will receive email updates on the company’s EcoPinion surveys, white papers and annual consumer choice scorecards.

DEFG, a management consulting firm specializing in energy, works with clients to increase residential and commercial customer engagement in a commodity marketplace.

Join us at the Customer Connections Conference

The American Public Power Association’s annual Customer Connections Conference happens Oct. 24 through 27, in Anaheim, Calif. This event promises lots of valuable information and insight for utilities at a time when we must create a new definition of customer service.  That’s why Breaking News will be covering Customer Connections live.

Bookmark this site and check in frequently during the conference to learn what the experts are saying about designing and implementing programs that meet your customers’ needs and help your utility meet its goals. We will be reporting from these dual track sessions (Pacific Time):

Monday, Oct. 25

  • 10:30-noon:  Customer Service Roundtable
  • 1:30-2:45p.m.:  Can You Prove the Savings for Your Energy Efficiency Program?
  • 3-4:15p.m.:  Social Media: Building the Case, Executing the Strategy, Capturing the Learnings

Tuesday, Oct. 26

  • 8:30-10 a.m.:  Top Five Smart Grid Communications Challenges
  • 10:15-11:45 a.m.:  New Age Distributed Generation: Emerging On-site Generation Options for Your Customers
  • 1:15-2:45 p.m.:  Integrated Marketing Communications: What’s the Right Mix?
  • 3:00-4:15 p.m.:  Joint Action/State/Regional Organization Roundtable

Our coverage isn’t just for those who can’t make it to Anaheim. Attendees are free to add their views in the comments section, too. Or e-mail the editor, and you just might get yourself a guest contributor spot.