Faced with the deep budget cuts the Trump Administration has proposed for the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) programme, U.S. states have the opportunity to step in and fill the vacuum, writes Udi Merhav, CEO of energyOrbit.
Already, states part of the U.S. Climate Alliance, such as California, New York, and Washington, are a mobilizing to ensure that their citizens will save energy and money with more efficient appliances and other Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs). However, state collaboration can only go so far.
Utilities owe it to their states and customers to lower their defenses amongst “competitive” neighboring utilities and band together for the good of reducing energy use across service territories and states.
The simplest way to do this is to address the energy efficiency (EE) application process most utilities have in place for their (EE/DSM) programmes.
Maximising customer engagement and participation through utility collaboration in these programs is not only good customer service, and good for a healthy grid, it makes good business sense as well for all utilities involved.
The Status Quo is Outdated
Inadequate energy efficiency and DSM program participation levels leave allocated budgets unused, and customers using energy inefficiently.
Couple this with paper-based applications and manually entered spreadsheets to track an EE/DSM programme’s progress, and utilities are left with execution that is both costly and time consuming for everyone involved. Ultimately, this makes hitting energy reduction targets frankly - inefficient.
Unfortunately, when it comes to applying for EE/DSM programmes most utilities use such outdated methods for applications that feel too much like manually doing one’s taxes.
If utilities do have interfaces where customers can get information, they still must fill out PDFs and fax them in, or be redirected to clunky and frustrating third-party websites to fill out forms.
Meanwhile, customers are left to their own devices to find the programs for which they are eligible. The danger here is that after filling out the same information a few times, ‘form fatigue’ often sets in and customers leave savings due to attrition resulting from too much hassle and burden when applying for rebates.
Digitized Engagement for Modern Energy
What customers want is the familiar ‘Amazon-style” shopping experience they get everywhere else on the web.
They are accustomed to these intuitive and helpful websites in a variety of other industries and the utility industry owes it to them to provide that same level of customer experience in the EE/DSM space.
Fortunately, the opportunity is available today, for utilities to embrace advancements in cloud software that other industries have capitalized on in recent years to improve the participation and reach of their energy efficiency programs.
By combining the application process for all of their EE/DSM offers into one single platform, and making that accessible to any customer in their state, they remove a variety of barriers to customer participation and increase program participation and customer retention in general.
With a comprehensive and convenient online measure shopping and rebate application portal any customer can search for any incentive or rebate program, whether their project is new construction or a retrofit.
They can also search for two fuel types at once, such as electricity and gas, without starting a search over. Customers also have the option to shop and view what is in their cart without having to log in; this gives them the option to “kick the tires” before they decide to register.
In the cart, they can watch the number of measure products and incentives they want to apply for rack up. This ‘gamification’ of energy efficiency incentives encourages customers to collect as many “points” as they can regarding energy saved and maximize their participation in their state’s programs.
Additionally, this portal interface makes it easy for customers to manage their information and improve the chances they will maximize what they are eligible for.. The system only requires them to input their application details once.
Through automation, the software can auto-populate this information into every application they have selected. After applications are processed, customers can track their projects while they wait for acceptance.
This unified, cross-service territory “shopping” solution removes utility red tape, as well as the clunky paper and pencil processes that plague most customers when they attempt to navigate and apply for existing rebate programs. It also provides all utilities in a state a strong touchpoint that tells the customer they are important and valued.
Additionally, by maximizing customer applications, utilities can help ensure the full budget of all of their incentives are allocated before the program ends, helping the state as a whole to reach its energy efficiency targets faster with less overhead.
Beyond increased adoption, this level of utility collaboration benefits each entity by pooling their program operations in one automated, streamlined management platform. One comprehensive portal for Programme Administrators (PAs) also increases staff productivity and fuels collaboration with third-parties for research, programme implementation, and evaluation.
With this collaborative approach, PAs can spend less time on tedious project management tasks to keep their programs moving along and put more attention to strategic activities that grow the adoption of their programmes.
Simple, intuitive, and comprehensive online shopping experiences are the norm for us in nearly every other market; this should also be the norm when we are shopping for products and programs that are designed to help us save energy.
One would think that the running of energy efficiency programs was - well, efficient. But, sadly the norm in the U.S. is that they are grossly inefficient, costing utilities investors and ratepayers money that could be allocated elsewhere.
It only makes sense that utilities come together to enhance customer engagement through collaborative digital solutions in manners they are already accustomed to. Comprehensive online shopping portals for EE/DSM programmes is an excellent place to start, where significant amounts of time can be saved for all parties involved.
It’s time utilities looked at each other as partners instead of competitors and adopted more collaborative marketplaces for their customers to engage with.
Udi Merhav is the CEO of energyOrbit, the market leading cloud solution for demand-side management operations for utilities and third-party implementers in North America since 2007. A seasoned technology executive and entrepreneur, Udi has spent 21 years designing and implementing e-commerce and information technology solutions for high growth sectors.