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A Glimpse of the Future: Day 1

By Zachary Hoffman and Luka Papalko

COLUMBUS, OHIO (April 18, 2017) – When the PUCO first began planning PowerForward, Chairman Asim Z. Haque made it clear that he did not want it to be just another utility 2.0 proceeding; he wanted it to focus on the customer.

The PUCO wanted to focus on customer specific questions. How might innovation, both technological and regulatory, better the customer electricity experience in Ohio? What kind of benefits and services are customers looking for? Are customers happy with the grid?

Perhaps most importantly, how far away are we from customers expecting these changes?

 

“I think you’re already there and have been for some time,” said Paul Di Martini of the Newport Consulting Group as he provided the first presentation for day one of PowerForward. “Customer expectations were already shaped by other industries.”

“Today, if it’s not happening instantaneously, you get impatient and move on to the next thing.”

In his opinion, customers want control, customers want context to information, customers want to collaborate and customers want to co-create.

“We all know, and studies show that the customer is always on,” stated Di Martini. “We always look at our smart phones for instance. Whether we are managing our finances or shopping, a lot of that can be done anywhere and anytime.”

“We see an opportunity where customers are increasingly leveraging technology,” said Di Martini.

This fact provides an obvious route for newer, more convenient services to find their way into the hands of customers. Why bother calling the utility to report an outage when a customer can notify them through social media? Why micromanage electric usage for the family when a customer can get live updates from their smart meter sent directly to their smartphone?

During the first panel of the day, Richard Caperton of Oracle Utilities, YeYe Zhang of Nest – Energy Partnerships and Katie Guerry of EnergNOC, Inc. discussed what some of these new services might be and how they should be deployed.

Caperton stated that utilities will need to get a “360 degree view” of their customers so that they can better understand how to meet their needs in the moments that matter. He suggests that installing more smart meters can help accomplish this.

Zhang stated that customers are looking for a better understanding of their electric usage data, and that smart appliances can help to translate that data into insights, recommendations and possible monetary savings.

Most importantly, however, Zhang notes that these things can often be confusing or difficult for customers to understand.

“What is a kilowatt? What is a kilowatt hour? I thought I was already on a time of use rate,” asked Zhang, as she noted possible customer concerns. “We want to keep simplicity in mind.”

In the second presentation of the day, Patty Durand of Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) stated that consumers want these new services and technologies, but not until they fully understand it.

“Those who are savvy enough to know what they want are unhappy with the utilities,” state Durand.

According to SGCC studies on the term “smart grid,” as many as 75 percent of those surveyed stated that they either had not heard of the term or did not know what it meant.

Those numbers indicate a need to increase awareness, rather than a lack of interest.

“Consumers are telling us they want technology,” stated Durand.

In the second panel of the day, Mike DiNucci of ChargePoint, Becky Campbell of FirstSolar and Manoj Kumar of Powerley continued to discuss what new innovations for customers might look like, and where Ohio might be falling short.

In looking at the statistics, DiNucci indicated that customers want the new technology that is available, but that their needs are not being met.

“As a state, Ohio is ranked 15 in electric vehicle (EV) registration,” noted DiNucci. Those numbers are a clear indication that Ohio customers are interested.

However, at less than 2 percent, DiNucci also noted that Ohio has the fourth worst EV attach rate in the country. That means that for every 1000 electric vehicles sold, there are only 60 charge points available.

With all of the insights provided by the speakers on day one, the PUCO should have a better glimpse of the future.

PowerForward continues Wednesday, April 19, 9 a.m. with presentations from a number of different experts. We hope to see you there.