CSVP Solutions Toolbox supports community solar development

With the average price of utility-scale solar electricity now at 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, it makes more sense than ever for utilities to consider adding community solar projects to their generation portfolios. And if your utility is new to the shared solar model, then you are in luck—the Community Solar Value Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CSVP) has just introduced a new Solutions Toolbox to help you develop a successful program.

In community or shared solar development, customers subscribe to solar project output or purchase or lease solar panels. According to the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), some 170 utilities nationwide currently offer or are planning to offer community solar.

The CSVP focuses on helping utilities to develop programs that meet the needs of both the utility and the customer. This includes programs that are developed entirely by the utility, as well as programs where the utility works with non-utility service providers.

Six sides of box
The Toolbox distills the wisdom and experiences of dozens of utilities and their trade allies to identify best practices that deliver value while speeding the project to market. The site, “Solutions Outside the Box,” addresses six challenge areas:

  1. Cross-departmental program design
  2. Strategic solar project design
  3. Best-practice financing and procurement
  4. Target marketing for customer acquisition
  5. Integration with solar-plus measures, such as energy storage and demand response (DR)
  6. Analytics, streamlined to get from project economics to program pricing

These issues will sound familiar to anyone who attended the CSVP workshop WAPA hosted at the Electric Power Training Center last June. One takeaway from that event was that every utility planner faces problems unique to their policy environments, organizational structures and customer demands.

Rich in resources
With that in mind, the CSVP built flexibility into the toolbox, stocking each topic with top planning guides, technical summaries, presentations and training webinars.

  • The Process is a flexible, solutions-oriented roadmap utilities can follow to develop their own community solar programs. High-Value Community Solar: A Brief Guide to Utility Program Design, a report in presentation format, summarizes lessons learned and introduces the planning resources on the website.
  • Strategic Design introduces the benefits of local, community-scale solar and of designing with strategic integration value in mind. This section provides tips for making high-value design choices, from strategic siting and solar tracking to gaining added value from solar shade structures. It dovetails with economic analysis process discussed in Section 6, Net-Value Assessment & Pricing.
  • Procurement for Products & Services is an area offering many opportunities for improving net value. Among the resources here, you will find CSVP’s concise outsourcing decision key, project financing models suitable for investor-owned or consumer-owned utilities and a procurement resource guide with direct links to publications on developing a solar request for proposal.
  • Target Market Research & Segmentation is a relatively new approach for utilities, but it is required for success with community solar. This topic covers best practices for community solar programs, with references to relevant resources, a webinar, market research checklist and step-by-step guide to Market Research and Market Segmentation for Community Solar Program Success. WAPA customer SMUD You are leaving WAPA.gov. and other Utility Forum members joined CSVP on fieldwork for these resources.
  • Companion Measures, such as solar-plus-storage and DR, can be integrated into community solar projects to create new options and value streams. CSVP’s guide to DR companion measures and guide to storage companion measures define options on either side of the meter that can complement community solar. An annotated resource list is a useful companion guide.
  • Net-Value Assessment & Pricing provides detail on CSVP’s streamlined analytic process to speed the path from early-stage program design to competitive program pricing. It begins with an overview presentation and a paper on CSVP’s streamlined economic analysis and includes three generic scenarios illustrating how this analytic approach applies in different utility settings. A presentation and blog on pricing strategy clarifies the last step in this approach.

The CSVP developed the Solutions Toolbox in partnership with energy industry experts and utilities, including SMUD. The DOE SunShot Initiative provided funding for the project under its Solar Market Pathways program. For more information about Solutions Toolbox or the Community Solar Value Project, contact Jill Cliburn at 505-490-3070.

Eco Pulse 2017 ends year on message of unity

Artwork by Shelton Group

In a country that increasingly seems to be defined by its division, it can be hard to market products and services that everybody needs, a challenge not lost on electric utilities. Happily, there are still some things people agree on—energy efficiency comes to mind—and the latest Eco Pulse report explores how to use those areas of agreement to tell your product’s story.

Agreeing on Earth
United We Understand You are leaving WAPA.gov. takes a deep dive to look at the values that drive the attitudes and behaviors people have with regard to sustainability. The data collected in the report suggest that the values structure in our country has more common roots than news headlines would indicate.

A survey of 2,000 respondents showed that Americans believe three things:

  1. We all deserve a clean planet.
  2. There’s a big problem happening with our environment.
  3. Everyone bears responsibility for fixing environmental problems.

Also, the number of respondents who say sustainability is an important part of their consumer choices has increased since 2013 and they believe that companies should do their part. However, a majority of respondents believe companies won’t take action unless a law requires them to.

Words matter
The report shares words that can unify Americans and thereby help brands connect with consumers. Using words that unite can help businesses use sustainability to build their brands across a broader audience. For utilities, the carefully chosen marketing language can create support for sustainability initiatives and program offerings, ensure a message that resonates and increase customer loyalty.

Language that divides rather than unites is also covered in the report. Words that trigger neutral or negative responses tend to have a less clear meaning across different demographics and do not resonate with our broader beliefs about how the world works.

Speak to values
Researchers concluded that Americans value the environment more than we might expect, but their reasons for doing so differ. Using a set of agreement statements developed in the seminal book, Environmental Values in American Culture, the Eco Pulse report found motivations that can be categorized into three distinct groups: earth-centric, human-centric and economic-centric. By understanding these values, and how to articulate them, you can better leverage your sustainability story, build your customer relationships and drive program participation.

You can download United We Understand for free from the Shelton Group, but registration is required. Start off 2018 with a revitalized marketing strategy for your customer programs and don’t forget to tell Energy Services how it goes. Happy New Year!

Source: The Shelton Group, 12/7/17

Webinar offers guidance on marketing community solar projects

Update: If you were unable to participate in Market Research and Market Segmentation for Community Solar Program Success, March 1, visit the webinar archive You are leaving WAPA.gov. at the Community Value Solar Project. You can download the presentation to learn about the five-step process to drill down from general to specific research and to organize findings into an action plan.

According to a GTM Research report You are leaving WAPA.gov. cited in Public Power Daily, You are leaving WAPA.gov. the community solar market is poised for significant growth in the coming year. However, interest in community solar among utility customers varies widely based on demographic, regional and lifestyle factors. Utilities might be wondering how to design and implement a community solar program that appeals to customers across market segments.

Angela Crooks, from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot program, attended a CSVP Utility Forum meeting, with Carmine Tilghman of Tucson Electric Power and John Powers, from the CSVP team, including this visit to a solar carport at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.
Angela Crooks, from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot program, attended a CSVP Utility Forum meeting, with Carmine Tilghman of Tucson Electric Power and John Powers, from the CSVP team, including this visit to a solar carport at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. (Photo by Community Solar Value Project)

Five Steps to Tailored Market Research, You are leaving WAPA.gov. sponsored by the Community Solar Value Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CSVP), will move quickly from general guidance to five specific steps that utilities can take to achieve results. The webinar features Jennifer Mitchell-Jackson, a partner in Grounded Research and Consulting You are leaving WAPA.gov.and lead author of a new CSVP market research and market segmentation guide.

Market Research and Market Segmentation for Community Solar Program Success shows how to get a better understanding of different customers’ motivations before you offer a community solar program. This guide describes a five-step process, beginning with assessing research needs and tapping outside sources of community-solar market intelligence, through leveraging available utility data, and carefully designing or obtaining new customer research to address specific needs. It can be downloaded for free from the CSVP website.

The webinar is free but registration You are leaving WAPA.gov. is required. If you can’t participate in the webinar, CSVP will record and archive it for on-demand use.

The Community Solar Value Project represents leading energy thinkers and do-ers, ready to “make community solar better,” from both the sponsoring-utility and customer perspective. Members are working to develop a decision framework for community-solar program design, focusing first on optimal siting and project design, procurement, target marketing and matching with companion measures that attack solar-integration challenges.

Proven Practices: Engage Media to Garner Credibility

As challenging as it is to design an energy efficiency or renewable energy program for utility customers, getting the word out and driving adoption often seems like the greater struggle. You know how to come up with an approach that balances your utility’s goals with customer needs, ensure that quality equipment or systems are available in your area and streamline the application and installation processes. Now all you have to do is persuade your customers to get on board. Before you print another bill stuffer or pay for a newspaper or radio ad, visit the Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center for some tips on building credibility through earned media.

Coverage that comes from good public relations may not generate immediate leads, but it can increase program recognition and lay the groundwork for future leads. A customer who has seen a news story about how a home energy upgrade helped a local family reduce electricity bills may pay more attention to the bill stuffer announcing your program. Timely content, such as a story about weatherizing or upgrading homes in the winter, can generate interest and even phone calls to customer service representatives.

The Residential Solution Center offers the following suggestions to earn media coverage:

  • Mark major milestones to spur momentum – Media outlets are interested in stories about the first or the biggest.
  • Keep content fresh and relevant – Refresh your messages about your program with stories about how it helped individuals, groups or the community.
  • Become a resource for energy efficiency – Your staff has experience and knowledge about issues that concern homeowners and contractors. Reach out to local home improvement shows and newspaper columns, or better yet, start your own.

Learn more 
Visit the Residential Solution Center to find more tips, examples and tools for marketing and outreach. If you haven’t used this online resource before, start the New Year by taking a tour of the Solution Center.

Source: DOE Better Buildings Initiative, 12/12/16

New Better Buildings toolkit dives into training techniques

Utilities often struggle to educate contractors, staff and volunteers on building science; sales and marketing; program offerings and business development. To help residential energy-efficiency program managers plan technical, outreach and professional training, the Department of Energy Better Buildings Residential Network recently launched a Training Toolkit.

Eden Housing affordable housing developer in Alameda County, California, has partnered with the Better Building Initiative to reduce the energy intensity of its properties by 20 percent. Reduced energy intensity results in lower utility bills for tenants and building owners. (Photo by Eden Housing)
Eden Housing affordable housing developer in Alameda County, California, has partnered with the Better Building Initiative to reduce the energy intensity of its properties by 20 percent. Reduced energy intensity results in lower utility bills for tenants and building owners. (Photo by Eden Housing)

This toolkit—the fourth Residential Network Voluntary Member Initiative—includes tips, resources and examples to help you realize the value of providing training opportunities for contractors, staff and volunteers. A study of more than 140 energy-efficiency programs across the country found that contractor training activities led to more comprehensive upgrades, a higher assessment-to-upgrade conversion rate, improved program processes, improved quality control and increased revenues, among other benefits.

To achieve such results, program staff, volunteers and contractors must have a thorough understanding of building science; sales and marketing; residential energy efficiency program offerings and business development. In the Training Toolkit, program managers will discover training resources and opportunities, compiled and reviewed by Better Buildings Residential Network members, to build that expertise in-house.

The toolkit provides resources on three types of training:

  1. Technical training – Covering building science, energy assessments, technologies and techniques
  2. Outreach training – Covering promotion of program offerings, sales training and customer engagement
  3. Professional training – Covering business development and management for participating contractors

Additional resources at the end of the toolkit include more details on the Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center. This online collection of resources and lessons learned concerning training and other topics is based on years of on-the-job experience in residential energy-efficiency programs.

Get involved
The Better Buildings Residential Network connects energy-efficiency programs and partners to share best practices and learn from one another to increase the number of energy-efficient homes. Several Western customers, including the cities of Fort Collins, ColoradoYou are leaving WAPA.gov. and Palo Alto, CaliforniaYou are leaving WAPA.gov. participate in the initiative.

Members of the Residential Network join with other energy-efficiency programs and partners to identify and address common challenges and market opportunities through voluntary initiatives that result in the development of new tools and resources. Your feedback concerning this toolkit and your training efforts help the network improve its resources and identify new issues.

Contact the Residential Network for more information about joining or participating in the next voluntary initiative.

Source: DOE Better Buildings Initiative, 3/25/16

Tell us what you want from Energy Services

When Western’s Energy Services regional representatives get together to talk about the program, it is not a subdued affair. The five regions within Western are all different from each other, and each representative brings a different perspective on what customers in their service territory need. One thing we do share is a passion for serving our customers, so the discussions can get pretty lively. At the end of a good meeting, however, we walk away with new ideas, renewed determination and a better understanding of the challenges customers face in other regions.

That is a pretty good description of what happened at the annual “face-to-face” meeting Energy Services held at Western Headquarters in October. The meeting gives Energy Services representatives an opportunity to plan for the coming year and to let management, the marketing team and the Equipment Loan Program know what kind of support their efforts need. This year’s meeting was particularly crucial since Western recently parted company with Energy Experts. We are exploring ways to offer customers more relevant technical assistance to replace the resources of the online service provider.

Feeling changes
The utility industry is standing on shifting ground, and power providers across Western’s service territory are feeling the changes. Complying with new regulations, joining a regional transmission organization, competing with new technologies and services, planning for extreme weather and meeting renewable goals and mandates are only a few of the issues keeping customers awake at night.

As we talked (and talked!) about how we can help our customers manage these and other concerns, one word kept coming up: training. The old saying, “Knowledge is power,” is old for a reason. Understanding even just the basics about a situation gives you more control and more options for dealing with it.

Western is in a great position to deliver training, too, in part, thanks to its Electric Power Training Center. For years, EPTC has delivered the highest quality power systems operation training to diverse audiences from power plant operators to dispatchers to support staff who just want to learn more about the business. It  streamlines the process of enrolling participants and hosting workshops.

Creating new product
Energy Services would like to extend EPTC course offerings to other aspects of utility business, such as long-range resource planning, load management and renewables and efficiency integration. Our contacts at the departments of Energy and Agriculture, utilities, universities and professional organizations give us access to experts on a wide array of topics. Training could be offered as on-site workshops or webinars, depending on interest and subject matter.

Speaking of subject matter, this is where you, our customer, can help us. The regional representatives came up with a long list of potential training topics, and we need your help to prioritize it. Please look over the following topics and select your top five concerns:

Your input required
It is quite a list, and likely far from complete. Feel free to add your own ideas about training that could help you or your staff feel more prepared to deal with today’s challenges and the ones you see coming.

Send your suggestions for workshops (or publications, or other types of technical assistance) to your regional representative or to the Energy Services manager. Energy Services is, after all, your program, and we are eager to hear what you want it to be.

Persuade your customers to implement energy-efficiency projects

home-repair350Public Power Week, You are leaving Western's site. Oct. 4-10, is a good time to reflect on the public—the consumer—and on the best strategies for making our customers true partners. Empowering them to save energy and control their consumption is one proven path to increasing customer satisfaction, but first you have to convince them to implement energy-saving measures. No matter how effective a technology is, customers will only adopt it if they are comfortable with it and excited about the benefits. Here are some tips to help utilities engage their consumers.

Highlight non-energy benefits
Find out what’s important to your customers (hint – it’s probably not energy efficiency). Focus on the customer’s values and measure with a customer’s yardstick. Audit reports seldom mention non-energy benefits. But if a measure such as lighting improvements can improve worker productivity or sales even a tiny bit, that will likely trump the value of efficiency.

In Selling Energy, You are leaving Western's site. author Mark Jewel discussed how non-energy benefits allowed Lockheed Martin to achieve a 15 percent rise in productivity and 15 percent drop in absenteeism, far more significant than the annual savings on the electric bill. Highlighting non-energy benefits may be more effective than focusing on Energy Use Index You are leaving Western's site. trends.

Explore the non-energy benefits your customers value the most:

  • Reduced maintenance costs, downtime (which could be more than $5,000 per minute for a data center or industrial plant), wasted materials, water and chemical use or inventory.
  • Improved staff productivity, sales, process quality and throughput, power quality, property value, environmental regulatory compliance, safety, profit margins, public relations or shareholder value.

Speak customer’s language
Learn about your customer’s business and point of view. If the decision-maker you want to influence is a CEO, try to think like a CEO. Keep in mind that for most, it’s “Just show me the money!” Top managers are busy people so make a business case that can be stated in two minutes or less (the proverbial “elevator speech”).

  • Reframe project costs from an expense to an investment, and ongoing operation and maintenance costs as protecting that investment.
  • Speak about energy costs as percentage of sales revenue, per unit of product, hospital bed, hotel room, student, tenant, square foot, etc.
  • Note that for a business with a 2-percent profit margin, $1,000 in energy savings is worth $50,000 in sales revenue.
  • Use present value, net present value or modified internal rate of return rather than simple payback or return on investment (ROI), but include these figures as well, if that’s what they really want, and compare with that of stocks and bonds.
  • Try to monetize the value of non-energy benefits.
  • If the customer has multiple sites, suggest monitoring energy intensity and getting site managers to compete for rewards.
  • Use colors to highlight data. Everyone knows that green is good, yellow is okay and red is bad. This can help your customers when they share data with their peers and management. People often make decisions based on emotions and then justify it with numbers.
  • Convert energy savings into something the customer cares about, such as hiring more staff.
  • Make a proposal that shows how a project meets the customer’s stated needs and goals, and is easy to review and approve. A CEO may approve a two-page summary of projects with an ROI of 38 percent but reject a 30-page proposal with details for each project. Stay brief and on point, but be prepared to answer any question about the project.

Start small
Identify some “low-hanging fruit” that can bring quick success and motivate the customer to tackle bigger projects with longer paybacks. Drive by at night to see what machines, lights and appliances are left on. Go after water coolers (which run 24/7), coffee makers, photocopiers and compressed air leaks.

Work with customer’s partners
Many customers will pay more attention to what their long-term contractors have to say than to the messages on utility postcards. To become a trusted partner, provide trainings and midstream incentives to trade allies.

Customers are more apt to consider implementing a measure that jibes with their budget cycle and scheduled downtime. If they already attend trade and industry meetings, make a presentation to these groups. If one customer implements a measure, let their peers know (if that’s okay with the customer). Try to find case studies of successful projects using a similar measure in similar businesses and building types.

Make customer’s customers, occupants happy
Happier occupants make more productive workers. Shoppers in comfortable, well-lit stores spend more money. Healthy facilities reduce sick days among workers and students, whose attendance is linked to federal subsidies for public schools.

Ensure long-term success
Provide adequate training and documentation during implementation to make sure the measure delivers the promised benefits. Promote equipment with automated fault detection alerts and energy savings monitoring and encourage system commissioning.

Respond to concerns
Mark Jewel lists sample responses to typical customer concerns.

  • “We can’t afford efficiency improvements.” The customer is already paying for energy efficiency – or lack thereof – through higher energy bills, which will only increase. Investing in efficiency will pay for itself through reduced utility bills. Encourage the customer to explore the use of capital and operating budgets to fund improvements.
  • “Our building manager can handle it.” Building managers have many diverse responsibilities. They may lack the specialized skills and time to focus on efficiency improvements.
  • “We’ve already done the low-hanging fruit.” Tell these customers about the benefits of deeper efficiency projects.
  • “My tenants pay for energy so I get no benefits.” Efficiency upgrades increase the building value. Tenants appreciate greater comfort and will be able to afford higher rents.
  • “We’re selling the building soon so upgrading now doesn’t make sense.” Upgrading raises the value of the property, especially if building performance is certified. It’s just like fixing up your house before putting it on the market.
  • “It’s wasteful to replace equipment before it fails.” Utility bill savings over five years may exceed the cost of the new equipment.

Not just efficiency
Now look back over the list of tips, and see how many you may be able to apply to other situations besides energy-efficiency improvements. Thinking from the customer’s perspective and figuring out how utility products and services can help them address their most pressing concerns is how to put the “public” in public power first.

Source: Washington State University Energy Extension

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.

Webinar offers tips for pitching energy efficiency to key accounts

July 23, 2015
1-2 p.m. MDT

Commercial efficiency consulting firm Noesis will present 5 Tips for Pitching Energy-efficiency Projects to CFOs Thursday, July 23.

Speakers will discuss how to get faster and more frequent approvals for commercial retrofit projects. Participants will learn five tips Noesis has developed to help marketing and customer service representatives deliver the business case for their projects and get more projects approved, faster.

Noesis specializes in working with energy-efficiency equipment vendors, but utility key account representatives might find the information valuable as well. Also, if your utility partners with vendors and contractors, consider getting everyone involved in marketing your customer programs to attend this training opportunity.

Source: Noesis, 7/17/15

Customer needs point way to utilities’ future

In a serendipitous case of cyber call and response, an energy industry blog recently posed a question that should be nagging all power providers, and another offered an answer that could give utilities hope.

At the Solar Electric Power Association’s Utility Solar Conference in May, Energy Efficiency Consultant Suzanne Shelton posted an essay titled “So why do I need my utility, exactly?”Redirecting to a non-government site Discussions among conference attendees about how best to build, integrate and price solar power seemed to leave the customer’s wishes entirely out of the equation. Coming on the heels of SolarCity/Tesla unveiling its Powerwall battery storage system, that approach struck Shelton as dangerously short-sighted. She conjectured that solar panel/battery storage combinations could become efficient and affordable enough in as little as five years to lead utility customers to ask themselves the question of her title.

Just two weeks later, “Listening for what matters to residential utility customers” Redirecting to a non-government site appeared in Intelligent Utility. The article focused on motivating customers to make energy-efficiency upgrades, but its underlying theme applies equally to the threat of grid defection. To get a customer to replace an inefficient furnace or stay connected to the grid, you must listen to their concerns and offer solutions that address their needs.

Doing business in brave new world
Broadcast television and landline phones tied to homes and offices were once life-changing services that quickly became viewed as necessities. For the most part, people were satisfied with those services and trusted the few—sometimes, sole—providers. Although utilities still enjoy that kind of marketplace (for now), consumers live in a world that offers myriad options and custom plans for other services, and they are starting to cast a skeptical eye toward their power providers.

A Shelton Group study found that 55 percent of consumers are less than satisfied with their utility, and would be open to other options. Tesla is only one of the private companies working on creating those options, and there are plenty of innovators in the energy-efficiency sector, too. It would take only a couple of breakthroughs to turn the much-discussed “utility death spiral” from a distant cloud on the horizon to a looming thunderhead.

The good news is that utilities still have time to get in front of the change curve. Both articles were optimistic about the new business opportunities awaiting utilities that are ready to look beyond the status quo of selling kilowatt-hours (kWh).

New model built on listening
Instead of seeing new technologies that save or generate energy as competition, utilities might consider how these systems meet customers’ specific needs. The IntelligentUtility article offers insight on how to talk to residential customers about saving energy, drawn from a poll by energy and sustainability marketing firm KSVRedirecting to a non-government site Researchers found that different demographics have different motives for making home improvements, a point Shelton frequently makes. Whether it is saving money, controlling home systems, freedom from time-of-use rates or something else, the utility of the future may be one that designs and markets customized equipment and service packages that speak to customers’ values.

All the points in the article are worth taking time to read, but Point 5, where researchers asked people where they get advice on home improvements, has particular resonance. Only 1 percent turned to their electric utility company, and this is where Shelton sees the greatest opportunity.

Despite sometimes bumpy relations with their power providers, people are still confident that when they flip the switch, the light will come on and when they open the refrigerator, the food will be cold. She suggests that by combining their established reputation for reliability with a new menu of customized products and programs, utilities will be able to keep customers even when leaving the grid becomes easier.

According to KSV, listening for what matters among utility customers is the best way to figure out how to connect homeowners with the right messages to get them to make efficiency upgrades. It is also the key to building the trust necessary to long-term customer loyalty, something no technology can duplicate or replace.

Source: Shelton Insights, 5/5/15; IntelligentUtility, 5/18/15