European Utility Week – customer focus as smart technology becomes reality


The customer in the smart energy market was in focus at European Utility Week this week, as some 8,000 utility professionals gathered at the Amsterdam RAI to hear about the latest technology and solutions for a smarter energy society.

Alliander Mobility Services
The brand new Tesla Model S electric car was featured during the launch of Dutch utility Alliander’s new venture, Alliander Mobility Services, which aims to drive the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs).

Alliander Mobility Services general manager Anja van Niersen, said: “We want everyone to be able to recharge anywhere, anytime in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. As we want to grow the market, we are always looking for new partners. The market is big enough for everyone.

“We want to develop the right business model, open infrastructure for all cooperation with clients and partners, develop specific solutions and incorporate renewable energy.”

At the E-Mobility Park at European Utility Week visitors were able to discover and experience the latest developments in the field of electric mobility. Various partners of Alliander Mobility Services presented concepts, such as inductive charging by Proov, smart charging by EnergyVille, and home charging solutions by The New Motion and Blue Corner.

Alliander Mobility Services’ stand was dubbed Stratingh Square, after Sibrandus Stratingh who developed the first electric vehicle in 1832.

Understanding customer behavior
Customer engagement and how to empower consumers was a popular topic in different conference tracks.  Here are some highlights:

  • Lessons from large-scale field deployment. The failure to reach out and engage customers prior to a smart meter rollout forced one U.K. energy retailer to revisit 5% of its customers up to 6 times before they could fit a new meter. This can significantly impact the operational expense of such a rollout, said Martin Wells, VP Utilities Head, Capgemini Consulting. In stark contrast, two projects in Nevada and Michigan managed to keep about 50% of customers engaged after reaching out to them with a pre-rollout communications program which included the use of an app with a game that created awareness on energy efficiency and ownership.
  • Customers’ digital home needs. Speaking on delivering value to the customer in smart homes, Yves Caseau, executive vice president, Bouygues Telecom in France, said that although important drivers for customers remained comfort, entertainment, health and security, price was still most important.  He also did not see a positive business case in an offering that only provided energy.
  • The Swedish experience. “Consumers are more aware of their consumption today,” said Karin Widegren, director of the Swedish Coordination Council for Smart Grid.  The Council has found that factors such as the environment and flexibility can be important drivers for customer engagement, not just price. Incentives, such as bundle offers with different services combined, could be one option to reach out to customers.
  • Can we save energy by changing our behavior? “We are well on track, and doing relatively well,” said Anca-Diana Barbu, project manager for Energy and Environment at the European Environment Agency, on the progress in the European 2020 energy and climate targets, although energy efficiency remained a problem area. “It is possible to save 15-20% in energy through consumer behavior,” she said, but customers need a “frame of reference.”