Globally, the utilities industry is facing unprecedented market shifts. Rapid technology advancements and growing adoption of distributed generation, smart technologies and connected home products and services are just a few of the shifts affecting energy providers and energy consumers. For providers, energy provision is quickly becoming only a small piece of a large, complex puzzle, and the traditional value chain is giving way to one with bidirectional flows of energy, information and revenue.
As the energy marketplace transforms, it is also changing the definition of consumers. Historically, utilities have had one-way relationships with bill payers. However today, environmental awareness, rising energy costs, increasing interconnectedness and declining costs of micro-generation technology-such as solar panels, small-scale wind turbines and energy storage-are creating a new class of consumers-prosumers.
Prosumer: The rise of energy partners
Prosumers are energy consumers who are creating their own energy and, in some cases, selling it back into the grid. The concept of 'prosumers' is not new but increasing adoption of distributed generation is making what has long been just a concept a real trend that energy providers must manage. Meanwhile, electric vehicles are also creating a new breed of 'roaming prosumers' using energy services in various places and in varying quantities with the ability to also sell energy stored in the car battery back into the grid. Technology is causing multiple markets to continue to collide and expanding the possibilities for prosumers. For example, Honda has recently opened a smart home demonstration project in California, which 'they'll build cars that are part of the energy infrastructure, providing back up storage for the solar panels on your roof, and reinforcing the wider electricity grid. They could even play a role in developing smart homes and technologies.' Furthermore, Ford and Tesla have both also entered the converging markets of smart home infrastructure.
Ford and Tesla
As more consumers become prosumers and chip away at traditional one-way interactions, these forces are driving more complex, interactive relationships with energy consumers. What is ultimately emerging are more active, two-way relationships-necessitating an entirely different, and more complex, set of customer insights and interaction types.
Where does this leave energy providers and what role can they play in creating solutions for prosumers? Accenture's New Energy Consumer research has shown that energy providers are one of the most preferred providers for distributed generation products and services but other service providers are aggressively moving into the market and gaining consumer share of mind and market share. Energy providers have a window of opportunity to establish themselves as distributed generation market enablers by leveraging smart technology, existing consumer relationships and next-generation customer insight. As a market enabler, energy providers can create new routes to market that allow for additional value streams and diversify revenue beyond commodity sales. To take advantage of this opportunity, providers will need to focus on developing capabilities that enable deep consumer insight and personalization. By leveraging micro-segmentation and targeted value propositions energy providers can enable a growing array of targeted products and services offered either by themselves or with partners.
Delivering the prosumer experience
As a growing number of energy consumers are becoming both energy consumers and energy business partners, it introduces a host of complexities and fundamentally changes the relationship consumers have with their energy provider.
The shift toward re-architecting the consumer experience is a cornerstone of delivering a prosumer relationship-and getting the basics right is the vital first step. Accenture believes that a key consideration is reducing channel complexity, which, in turn, will reduce organizational challenges in creating a seamless customer experience. Actively addressing traditional challenges around siloed customer experiences and layers of organizational complexity is also part of getting the basics right. To enable an enterprise-wide view of interaction points, energy providers will need to develop new approaches to virtual interaction management capabilities that consider the rising rates of technology 'interconnectedness'. While these basics apply regardless of customer type, for prosumers it is even more critical. Interactions with prosumers will span parts of the utility that have traditionally been more siloed from new connections, demand management, field services and customer support. As the number of prosumers grows, it will magnify many of the customer experience challenges of today and create an even greater need to truly deliver a seamless and effortless experience.
The other key part of delivering the prosumer experience is establishing a core platform that enables digital prosumer engagement and insight-driven decisioning. As distributed generation continues to gain traction, prosumers will look for set-and-forget solutions. Enabling simple self-serve interactions, offering energy insights across channels, enabling energy management and providing proactive notification capabilities will increasingly be critical for prosumers. These capabilities obviously have to apply across all groups of consumers but it is with digitally enabled prosumers that energy providers will need to simplify what could otherwise be a very complex and challenging relationship. By building a digital prosumer engagement model, energy providers can create a truly new kind of energy experience that will also apply across all consumers.
The bottom-line-successful, visionary energy providers will be those that see that prosumers are not a passing fad, but rather offer an opportunity to architect a new digitally driven engagement model for the customer organization while offering opportunities to expand into new markets.
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