Calling himself the “world’s greatest consumer,” utility watchdog Michael Shames helped in 1981 to create the Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN), where he has served as executive director...
CEO FORUM: Dealing with Disruption
Leaders adapt to strategic shifts in the utility landscape.
when we deploy it they’ll be better off, and we will too in our ability to provide electricity affordably and reliably. That is our mantra.
About 20 years ago we began real-time pricing with our major industrial customers. We found that if we sent them real-time price signals, they could make operational changes that would benefit them and also benefit the utility in terms of controlling peak demand. We had a lot of good experience learning how our customers can respond. Now we’re moving down the scale of our customer base, ultimately down to residential users with advanced metering. Our metering services department has watched the evolution of that technology and tried a lot of systems in different pilots. We finally got comfortable that the technology was ready for prime time, and we developed a business case that showed we could justify the cost of deploying AMI, simply because of savings in meter reading and vehicle costs. Now we’re about halfway through our system, with 2 million meters deployed.
Spence, PPL Utilities: Our strategy stands on three pillars. The first and most important is communication with our customers, informing and educating them. We use a lot of different tools in that process. Two years ago, we branded our customer-engagement efforts under the banner of E-power, and we promote the E-power options and tools through a combination of traditional newspaper and TV ad spots.
The second pillar is technology, which is there to help customers evaluate their usage and options. If I were to move to a time-of-use rate, for example, how much could I save? A key tool for doing those evaluations is the Energy Analyzer. The Energy Analyzer allows customers to use their own metering data to model their home energy use and evaluate the savings they’d get from making various changes. That’s been very effective, and about 30 percent of our customers have used it. Communications played a key role in building awareness for E-power and the Energy Analyzer application.
The third pillar is the focus on providing value to all stakeholders. There’s got to be a business case for each investment in technology or equipment. There has to be savings and efficiency for customers and also value to shareholders.
We look at those three pillars and ask whether it makes sense to the customer. We recognize that our customers rely on us as energy experts. Many companies provide good information and services, but they’re not all people our customers will trust or rely upon. When we provide information it has to be high quality, the right information.
We survey our customers to see how satisfied they are about the information and reports we provide to them. Before we launched the Energy Analyzer, 28 percent of our customers said they were very satisfied, and after we launched it, 46 percent said they were very satisfied. So we got an 80-percent lift in satisfaction.
Burke, TXU Energy: It all comes back to being dependable, trustworthy and innovative. Customers in Texas can choose from more than 30 retailers, with 200