Utility and consumer trends to watch in 2017

Customer experience management solutions firm KUBRA issued a whitepaper analysing consumer and utility benefits through the adoption of digital applications and services.

The whitepaper ‘Trends to Watch for in 2017’ discusses the level of development of innovative IoT and grid technologies – their introduction into the markets and forecasts the rate of adoption by smart grid solution providers, the energy consumer, and by IoT and utility companies since 2016.

The paper denotes  KUBRA’s predictions on trends most likely to take shape within the IoT smart grid and digital utility sectors in 2017 and beyond.

“In the past year, we have seen technology growing and evolving, and many innovations that at first sounded like a far-off dream are quickly approaching mainstream adoption.

“As consumers begin adopting different technologies and adapting their routines and expectations accordingly, it’s important for utilities to adapt as well. If taken advantage of, these unfolding trends hold great opportunities to increase customer satisfaction, engagement, and more,” states the whitepaper.

Consumer demands

According to KUBRA, the IoT smart grid and digital utility sectors are witnessing an increase in consumer demand for utility companies to provide AI services to simplify and enhance interaction with their customers.

“Customers currently receive communications from their utilities through channels such as phone, text, and email, but what about being able to simply ask an AI device questions about their account instead?” adds KUBRA.

By adopting such services, energy providers would also increase customer flexibility, as consumers will have access to a variety of platforms including in-home display systems and web portals.

KUBRA expects the growth of the smart homes market to result in the development and integration of new smart home devices and technologies which utilities will include in their business models – allowing consumers to access information such as power restoration times, how much energy an appliance is using or how much money is left on their pre-paid accounts.

The increase in adoption of smart home devices and technologies by utility companies would pave way for increased grid reliability and consumer services, as consumers will have the ability to improve their energy efficiency and costs through remote management of their appliances in real-time even when they are not home.

These devices include smart lighting, HVAC and thermostat systems.

Social media automated messaging is also expected to increase in utilities’ business models as energy providers will increase the use of automated Facebook direct messaging to inform customers about outages and status of bill payments.

The increase in the use of social media platforms can assist energy companies to reduce expenses incurred in operation of call centres, call centre time and customer frustration.

Energy storage and EV infrastructure development

KUBRA states that Europe and North America are leading in terms of adopting distributed energy resources and digital technologies, utilities in these regions are expected to increase their investments in energy trading and storage.

The adoption of measures such as Vehicle-to-Grid energy trading in which consumers or owners of EVs can sell back their energy stored in EVs back into the grid during peak demand periods is likely to intensify.

Peer-to-peer energy trading and an increase in deployment of energy storage projects using batteries for storing electricity generated from clean sources during the day for usage when demand is high will also increase.

Global utilities are expected to increase their efforts to ensure that the adoption of EVs and the construction of related infrastructure and their usage are regulated. New utility programmes will be introduced to ensure grid networks are able to accommodate increasing numbers of EVs.

KUBRA expects an increase in consumer usage of mobile apps to pay bills and report outages amoung all age groups. Between 2015 and 2016, the rate of customers aged between 18 and 24 years using mobile applications in the utility sector increased from 82.5% to 85.6%.

Consumers aged 65 years and above increased their app usage from 39.8% to 42.1% between June 2015 and June 2016.

KUBRA reiterates that customer expectations regarding the introduction of new technologies and digital services by their energy providers, are going to rise, as consumers will expect utility services and operations to match with the introduction of new solutions in other sectors. [New report finds consumer flexibility remains low in Europe].

Approximately 83% of global consumers are expected to demand the same or better digital channels from their utility as from online retailers.

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Nicholas Nhede is an experienced energy sector writer based in Clarion Event's Cape Town office. He has been writing for Smart Energy International’s print and online media platforms since 2015, on topics including metering, smart grids, renewable energy, the Internet of Things, distributed energy resources and smart cities. Originally from Zimbabwe, Nicholas holds a diploma in Journalism and Communication Studies. Nicholas has a passion for how technology can be used to accelerate the energy transition and combat climate change.