How a Secure, Open Platform Drives Customer Participation in the Future Grid

By Erin Keys on

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With slated-to-retire fossil-fueled power plants staying online to address resource adequacy concerns, it can sometimes seem as though our progress toward decarbonization is moving in the wrong direction. But with power demand skyrocketing from electrification and digitization, it’s no wonder that the Department of Energy (DOE) predicts a 200 GW (or 25% of total expected load) peak resource shortfall by 2030 and regulators are resorting to whatever solutions they can to ensure power reliability remains intact. Utilities have been charged with decarbonizing while also retaining affordability and keeping the lights on, and achieving all three while maintaining pace with load growth can feel like an impossible task. That is, until considering the latent potential of the very source of that growth – customers.

Addressing The Utility Trilemma By Empowering Customers

The DOE-predicted peak demand shortfall is just that – it occurs at peak times, and in some states upwards of half the projected cost to meet the peak occurs for just 2% of the year. Building out dispatchable generation to address the entirety of this demand might solve the shortfall issue, but could also drive skyrocketing electricity prices, which would undercut the key utility tenant of affordability. Not to mention interconnection queue backlogs have increased by 40% in recent years, with ~5 years as the average wait time for recent projects. With these dynamics at play, turning to customers to adopt more energy efficiency (EE), variable rates, and demand response (DR) measures makes a lot of sense from not only a cost effectiveness and speed perspective, but also a reliability and decarbonization one.

Engaging customers in utility programs has historically been difficult. In fact, Uplight’s Annual Voice of the Customer Survey found that only half of residential customers are aware of programs and offers for which they are eligible.  As a result, participation rates in critical programs that could help address the peak resource shortfall (while also providing customers with rebates and incentives) are far below what is needed or even forecasted. For example, participation rates for demand response (DR) programs have even seen a recent decline of 10%; whereas to achieve those programs’ potential, participation rates must sometimes quadruple. Given that nearly 60% of customers want a more personalized utility experience, how do we not only reverse this trend, but supercharge customer participation in DR, time-varying rate, and energy efficiency (EE) programs alike?

A Secure, Open Platform Opens Possibilities

First and foremost, the paradigm around who ‘owns’ energy customers must fundamentally change. With direct-to-consumer energy offers exploding and utility engagement scores trending downward in recent years, the stage has been set for competition rather than collaboration. But to create the type of delightful, frictionless experiences that customers have come to expect in other parts of their digital lives, all parties in the energy ecosystem must work together to elicit the customer action necessary for mass participation in the grid of our future. In particular, when data is siloed across utilities and vendors, the customer experience suffers and no one wins.

So, Uplight designed a secure, open platform to accelerate customer participation in programs.  We are taking the brains behind our Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions – from energy disaggregation insights to drive behavioral EE to program eligibility validations to accelerate DR enrollments – and making them identically accessible by utilities and vendors. These brains are available via Application Program Interfaces (APIs) through a developer experience that looks like any modern one offered by companies like Stripe, which handles the back-end payment processing for many of our everyday purchases. Doing this not only allows consistency across customer touchpoints, but also allows data from across the ecosystem to be consolidated and used to drive increasingly personalized recommendations and offers. And that matters, because Uplight has found that meeting customers in new channels with personalized offers can increase utility program enrollment rates by upwards of 120%. 

More broadly, these APIs enable the concept of personalized size guides for online apparel shopping to meet electricity management. They ‘right-size’ energy-related decisions by enabling data and insights to follow customers anywhere they choose to digitally engage. Imagine a world where signing into an e-commerce account allows instant utility rebates to be applied to purchases like heat pumps at checkout, avoiding the manual and often cumbersome post-purchase process typically employed by utilities today. Or, one in which receiving an eBill also means seeing a curated list of programs and rate plans for which you’re eligible, accompanied by savings estimates associated with taking these actions and one-click experiences to sign up. This world is the one that Uplight is building.

To empower customers to be active participants in the grid, we must make energy choices as informed and easy as other everyday ones while still being linked to the entities ultimately responsible for ensuring the production and/or delivery of our power. If we do, and triple the current contributions of customers, up to 20% of the DOE-predicted resource shortfall could be addressed with $10B less spent on annual grid costs . That’s why access to APIs built with buy-in from utilities, vendors, and customers alike – all hosted on a secure, open platform – are so crucial. With universal access to these tools, customers are shared, but everyone wins. The customers win because their preferences are kept front and center while maintaining affordability; vendors win because their products and/or services are increasingly utilized; and utilities win because distributed energy assets and digitization transform from potential liabilities to assets in the march toward a reliable, cost-effective, and decarbonized future.

 

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