The New Tech Frontier for Utilities

Greg Sarich, CIO, CLEAResult
113
186
34

Greg Sarich, CIO, CLEAResult

In today’s day and age, we’re all immersed in a world bursting with technology. The phones in our pockets are essentially mini computers. The cars that we drive can park themselves. The refrigerators we have can tell us if we’re running out of milk. We don’t know what the future will hold, but we do know that technology is pervasive and evolving at a rapid pace. The saying, “every company is a technology company” couldn’t be more true, but it’s the companies that embrace and unlock the potential and value of technology that will succeed well into the future.

At the end of the day, technology is impacting every single industry and the utility industry is no exception. Utilities play a central role in developing and implementing energy efficiency programs for their customers and technology is becoming more critical than ever in that process. Leveraging technological advancements can play a significant role in a utility’s success in delivering cost-effective energy efficiency program portfolios. There’s a reason the Department of Energy devotes an entire section on its website to emerging technologies, pushing for “cost-effective, energy-efficient technologies to be developed and introduced into the marketplace.”

  ​As utilities continue to embrace technology, this could mean substantial gains in energy efficiency and increased customer engagement   

Not only can various software offerings and analytics capabilities help utilities deliver more energy savings more efficiently, but technology is also changing the way utilities interact with their customers. For utilities, it can provide a platform to aid in a substantial step forward in building stronger relationships with customers, reducing the cost of a utility’s energy efficiency programs while offering a seamless experience across all digital channels. Customers are increasingly more tech-savvy, and they expect the companies they interact with to be the same way.

As utilities continue to embrace technology, this could mean substantial gains in energy efficiency and increased customer engagement. The following are a few examples of how this is already starting to play out in the industry:

• Automation is Key: Energy demand management provides an opportunity for customers to play a key role in the operation of the electric grid by shifting electricity usage during peak periods in response to time-based rates or other forms of financial incentives. Now imagine being able to automate this process in a way that is mutually beneficial for both customers and utilities. Software solutions are available that fully automates demand side management (DSM) programs, from planning, marketing and tracking to execution and reporting. This in turn makes DSM programs operationally efficient for all customers, leading to more streamlined experiences that produce better results. By instantly translating complex data streams into real-time metrics, these automated DSM software solutions, such as CLEAResult’s DSMTracker™, can arm utilities with the information they need to create more impactful energy efficiency programs for customers.

• Big Data Continues to Yield Big Results: Utilities have the opportunity to leverage Big Data to uncover key insights about markets and end-users. Utilities and energy companies have to consider sources of data as raw ingredients. By analyzing customer usage behaviors from smart devices through comprehensive data management tools, utilities can deliver messaging or customized programs that are more tailored to individuals or markets. This can come in the form of customized energy rebate offers, coupons, or simply expert advice based on specific customer wants and needs. This level of personalization is what today’s consumers desire.

• Smart Homes Lead to Smarter Utilities: Devices that are connected to the Internet–IoT devices–are permeating our lives and helping utilities have better insight into customer behavior. Smart thermostats, for example, have become increasingly popular among consumers. Devices manufactured by Nest or Honeywell can provide users with real-time data that makes it easier to understand and lower their energy use. And not only can consumers benefit from these devices, but utilities can as well. CLEAResult implemented a pilot program that studied the popular Nest smart thermostat and results showed that Nest users saved more kWh per year than those without a smart device in their home. The data that was extracted from the Nest devices for the pilot is precisely the data that utilities could leverage in an ongoing capacity to develop tailored programs that get the full value of a customer’s personal device.

• Predictive Analytics: Power outages during the dog days of summer are all too common in certain areas of the country. But there are ways that utilities are leveraging technology to predict or anticipate when a power outage may occur. Utilities are investing in smart technology to keep the electric system running smoothly during times of extreme weather. And they are using technology to monitor demand and prevent the grid from being overwhelmed as customers crank up their air conditioners to combat scorching temperatures. Through predictive analytics, utilities can model complex relationships among interval loads and variables such as weather to predict an impact on power flows, leading to more reliable forecasting.

From automated DSM software solutions to smart thermostats, there is a new realm of technological advancements positively impacting the way we consume energy. And these new advancements are also positively impacting how utilities interact and connect with customers in a more meaningful way. With a continued focus on efficiency based on technology, utilities can harness innovation to create and enhance value for both themselves and the customers they serve.

Read Also

Eight Lessons in Leadership

Sharon Gietl, VP-IT & CIO, The Doe Run Company

Creating a Tangible Impact through Collaboration

Matt Schlabig, CIO, Worthington Industries