Making Energy Relevant for Our Business Customers

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I had the pleasure of being a part of the Big 5 Panel, a session for the DNV GL’s 25th Retail Energy Executive Forum™. I sat with representatives from GDF Suez, Constellation, TXU Energy, and NRG, as we discussed industry trends, how we are living up to/plan on living up to our customers’ expectations, and what’s next for the industry.

The preceding keynote was given by Direct Energy President and CEO, Badar Khan. One of his many quotable moments that resonated throughout our panel, and the conference, was “We [the U.S. energy industry as a whole] all need to step up our game.”

Competitive energy markets push retail energy companies to provide innovative and useful tools for customers – both residential and business – to help them have more control over their energy usage/strategy. Competition also challenges energy companies to build on ‘green’ trends and provide more choices for customers, including, but not limited to, increased energy efficiency, demand response programs, free energy days, and solar.

One panelist stated that energy is moving from being transactional to experiential, meaning people aren’t simply opening their energy bill and paying it without thinking; rather, they want more control over their energy usage in the palm of their hands, through apps, wireless devices, etc. I think this latter point is proving itself with the increase in residential and business solar installations and other renewable alternatives, use of smart thermostats, installation of smart meters, signing up for time-of-use product offerings, and much more.

Innovation was an obvious common thread throughout the panel discussion. One question posed was “What is the number one path to stimulate innovation in a competitive [energy] market?” Smart meters were discussed as a piece of the puzzle, described as an enabler to innovate. Without good market structure though, smart meters aren’t so smart. Smart meters provide valuable data that isn’t yet being fully utilized. The US is data-rich, but information poor. According to IBM, 90% of the world’s data was accumulated in the past two years. As you can imagine, we haven’t quite caught up as far as data collection and analyzing methods are concerned. We want to be able to glean critical energy usage data to provide each and every customer with exactly what they want.

Maintaining the theme of the conference – What’s Next? – the panel discussion ended with our thoughts about the future. Five years from now, digital transactions will be the norm, we may see an increase in LNG exports, and hopefully our industry will be more proactive in providing customers with what they want, maybe even before they know what they want.

The energy industry is one of the top industries in the world, but one can argue most consumers don’t spend much time thinking about energy. What do customers want and what are they willing to pay for? If we as an industry and at Direct Energy Business can answer this, we will be in really good shape.

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