What you can expect from the second annual E Design 2020 conference
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February 28, 2018

What’s Next for the New Energy Consumer? We Have Some Ideas

Of course, this year’s E Design 2020: Powering What’s Next for the New Energy Consumer is all about innovation and design thinking, but we’ve added a focus on how to move ideas into action for your customers. We’ll gather in Seattle from April 11–12 to study innovative approaches and design-thinking experiences from other industries. Speakers from Starbucks, Microsoft, Amazon, LO3, and T-Mobile will explain how they’re overcoming barriers to innovation, and you’ll learn how a shift in culture can start by looking at customers through a lens of empathy. In case you missed last year’s conference, here’s a recap.

Workshop Highlights

Our 2017 agenda featured utility insiders and outside industry experts, mixed with hands-on design-thinking workshops. Attendees empathized with Mike, a microbrewery owner who claimed to know nothing about energy, but showed amazing knowledge of his facility’s energy use and his interactions with the utility. Five-person teams worked together to understand this customer’s latent needs and point of view before they moved on to ideation, idea selection, and iteration.

Photo of E Design 2020 workshop participants

One team developed a concept that involved utility coordination of a joint community solar purchase program for their local breweries. The utility would match funds raised for the solar garden through beer events and provide a kiosk that allows the breweries to publicly display their solar output and impact on the environment. The concept also included quarterly meetings, hosted by the utility, to educate brewers about water, energy, and sustainability issues and facilitate knowledge-sharing. Overall, the team created a holistic solution that covered more than just energy use. The concept was responsive and personal (by calling for a dedicated account manager who knows the brewery business), focused on sustainability (by creating a community-based solar solution), and business-oriented (by allowing small businesses to take credit for the community solar farm and providing matching funds to pay for the project).

Speaker Highlights

During the keynote address, Sven Newman, principal and social innovation lead at Daylight, led us through the stages of design thinking and highlighted how empathy research can lead to the discovery of subtle yet profound insights. In one example, a customer asked Daylight for help understanding how to motivate kids to exercise more. Daylight created the Kid Power Band, sending children on digital missions around the globe. As the kids take physical steps during their mission, they unlock a parcel of food for undernourished kids in other parts of the world. The big-picture idea: encourage kids in the US to exercise for the sake of feeding children elsewhere. And it worked!

We also heard from Justin Burks, head of Worldwide Strategic Programs for Amazon Web Services (AWS). He kicked off the session by sharing Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s 1997 letter to shareholders emphasizing that the company’s strategy is about winning in the long run. Quarterly earnings may suffer, but by having a consistent approach to innovation, all employees know what to do in any situation. Bezos debunked the notion that big companies can’t innovate. At AWS, Burks explained, staffers present new ideas in a six-page format that includes a section on what the press release and the user manual will look like. Then the decision team spends 30 minutes together in a meeting, silently reading the proposal.

Finally, Aaron Taylor Harvey, Environments Creative Director at Airbnb, took us on an office-spacE Design journey. His team wanted to create a call center environment that was as comfortable and inviting as the properties on Airbnb’s rental network. Check out a video narrated by Taylor Harvey to learn more about the company’s design process and innovations.

After two full days of immersion in design thinking, attendees were energized and motivated to take what they learned back to their utilities and start turning the traditional mode of problem-solving on its head. By tapping into empathy, design thinking can help utilities start creating a truly customer-centric culture.

Join Your Peers

The 2018 agenda will build on last year’s success by tackling issues such as:

  • Creating solutions for distributed energy resources that make sense for customers and utilities
  • Gaining traction in the hard-to-reach small and midsize business market by taking a better approach to understanding their core wants and needs
  • Improving demand-side management program effectiveness and participation
  • Creating different and superior customer experiences via the interactive voice response system, call center, or field applications
  • Discovering new revenue-generating products and services that customers actually want

Interested in continuing the innovation journey with us at the second annual E Source E Design 2020 conference? E Design 2020: Powering What’s Next for the New Energy Consumer

About the Author

Bill LeBlanc


Chief Instigation Agent

Bill LeBlanc previously served the business as vice president for Marketing, vice president for Consulting, and vice president for Research. He’s also president of the Boulder Energy Group. Bill has more than 20 years of experience in strategic marketing, new product development, pricing, market research, and DSM as well as social marketing. He focuses on helping utilities understand the intersection between the customer and the utility’s products and services, and specializes in maximizing marketing effectiveness. He holds a BS and an MS in mechanical engineering from Stanford University and a BA in management economics from Claremont McKenna College.

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Contributing Authors

Chief Instigation Agent

Bill LeBlanc draws on his experience in the energy industry to provide insight into where the industry is going and help create E Source...