E Source Blog
Welcome to the E Source Blog! Our staff will share insights and observations about life at E Source, our events, our research, and other fun stuff.
At the 2014 American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy Summer Study last week, I was encouraged to see an increasing focus on utility customer engagement: Customer needs, wants, and experiences are becoming more and more important in this age of disruptive innovation for the industry. Increased engagement not only allows utilities to build a better relationship with their customers, it also helps them achieve efficiency goals. Although installing more-efficient equipment will always be a big part of energy savings, many utilities now recognize that motivating people to change their behavior can have a significant and persistent impact on energy usage.
The idea seemed so simple: “We’ll continually find the best emerging energy-efficiency technologies and incorporate them into our demand-side management programs.” We don’t know who exactly said that, but we remember numerous demand-side management (DSM) program visionaries saying similar things during the industry’s early years. But if utility DSM programs are going to grow and overcome the inertial drag of ever-rising codes and standards, utilities need to constantly add new technologies to their portfolios. Like so many good ideas, this one turned out to be much harder than anyone thought it was going to be.
There are many heralds of the changing season: The splendid debut of chrysanthemum blooms. An overabundance of football paraphernalia, including Sir Purr (who—let’s admit it—is the best-named mascot ever). Shorter days. And—my personal favorite—cooler nights. But for me and many of my counterparts here at E Source, the most telltale sign that fall is upon us is the E Source Forum. Where else can you mingle with people who not only understand but are interested in (!) strategic energy management initiatives or the potential gas energy savings of new laundry technologies like polymer beads?
Have you ever sat in the office of an energy-efficiency engineer and wondered what’s in those nondescript reports filling the shelves? They’re probably technical studies of customers’ facilities, outlining in detail the costs and savings of efficiency opportunities in those buildings. But these analyses are often not used by customers because the amount of information within them is overwhelming, leaving end users with questions about where to start on their path to efficiency. Fortunately, the advent of big data and massive computing horsepower has introduced a new approach: building energy analytics.
I edited 35 E Source Account Management Assessment reports this year, which pretty much makes me an account management specialist. But you don’t have to be an expert to notice something oddly self-defeating in business account management processes. Why are we encouraging contact center reps to collect e-mail addresses from business customers, then hastening the reps off the phone so they meet their average handle time goals?
While answering Ask E Source Inquiries, I learned about a product that takes a new approach to an old technology: electrostatic air filters. These filters, according to their manufacturers, capture particulates with filtering efficiencies as high as some hospital-grade air filters, all while consuming LESS energy. Significantly less energy. And just to clarify, filters themselves don’t consume energy, but the filters do affect how much energy the fans consume. Much to my chagrin, despite this products’ energy saving potential, robust research on this technology’s performance is lacking.
At last year’s E Source Forum, I was an intern for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. Now I’m a research analyst for the demand-side management (DSM) team at E Source, and I’ll be hosting my first Forum session on Wednesday, October 1: “So Happy Together? Collaboration Among Electric, Gas & Water Utilities.” We’ll talk about whether the electric, gas, and water utilities that are partnering on joint DSM programs are happy about the arrangements.
Participating in the social media conversation allows utilities to respond to and engage customers quickly and efficiently, resolving issues, addressing complaints, and putting a human face on the utility. More important, when utilities don’t participate in the social media conversation, they cede control of and responsibility for brand, reputation, and customer experience. As Dave Kerpen, author of Likeable Social Media, recently wrote in an article for Inc., “Not responding to a customer’s complaint on Twitter is like hanging up the phone on him—with millions watching.”
Electric utilities have had decades to prepare, at least mentally, for the day when electric vehicles (EVs) would become a reality. That day has finally arrived, but I believe most utilities are falling into traps that are hindering rather than helping the market evolve—and therefore benefit utilities. What tactics can utilities engage in now to help create a new, intelligent EV market that creates consumer demand?
As an E Source content manager, I read dozens of reports, presentations, blog posts, newsletters, and web pages every week. So I know that the words we use are critical to getting the right message to the right audience. But do residential customers really respond to “energy efficiency”? Doubtful. The language we use to describe energy efficiency is often confusing, misleading, fear-inducing, or—horror of horrors—meaningless. But if we choose careful words with just the right nuance, we can stir emotions, change philosophies, and, most important, motivate action.