From left: Maura Yates, Matt Adams, Graeme Walker, Maggie Clancy, Dana Guernsey, and Tom McGinn

In the session, moderated by Maura Yates, Co-founder of Mothership Energy Group the panel members Dana Guernsey, CPO at Voltus Inc, Tom McGinn, Head of Business Intelligence at Energywell, Matt Adams, Senior Managing Director – Energy Structuring at Priority Power, Graeme Walker, CEO of Abacus Energy, and Maggie Clancy, CCO at Levo Mobility explore what the entrance of new players, and asset types, into the energy ecosystem means for the future of customer-centric retail. They focus on how social electrification, particularly around transportation and intelligent homes, creates all-new touchpoints for energy companies to capitalize on and discuss how to ensure that digital design experiences promote trust in addition to engagement.

Maura starts the session with an introduction to why they are there and gives a Texas specific example of how consumers have been traumatized and hurt twice in a short period of time – first by Winter Storm Uri and then by the gas market. It’s this perfect storm of customers being fed up, traumatized, and wanting something different and then the digital loads are coming in and looking differently. The market is changing its prime opportunity to extract new value and create new experiences. Each one of the companies in the panel have new ways of engaging with new customer experiences and extracting more value. The panel has a strong representation across the industry both from a service provider to actual market participants, and everything from residential all the way up to large industrial.

The moderator asks each panel member to explain why they are in this space and why their business model is created around this future world where customers have more power and are utilizing their assets more. First up is Tom from Energywell who says they’ve always seen a world where efficient and “good power users” subsidize inefficient and “bad power users”. He now thinks that particular world is coming to an end if it’s not already over. The challenge going forward is going to be enabling those people that have underutilized assets to unlock value from them in a way that they could not previously whether because of a lack of technology or regulatory blocking. Dana from Voltus says the problem is that there are a few different macro level trends that are happening. “The infrastructure is old and decrepit, there’s no other way to put it. There are wildfires in California not being maintained, we’re having more extreme climate emergencies, then you add polar vortexes in Texas, crazy hurricanes, heat waves and fires etc. So you have this grid that’s totally stressed out and this is not a recipe for great reliability. Then you layer on bringing online all these new loads – actually increasing demand for the first time in a while with electric vehicles, Bitcoin operations, electrifying homes etc.” she says. The solutions are to continue to go in the direction of the energy transition, but with a focus on reliability. We can’t have all the renewables that we want if we’re not also focusing on flexible load, responsive load, ramping, flex products, and engaging the customers along the way. She thinks the customer is going to be way more engaged in their utility bill and be part of the solution as well. No one understands their utility bill today but reimagining it is probably going to be the entry into home energy management. Maggie from Levo Mobility mentioned that they got in to help solve the problem of electrifying school buses but then realized they were creating another problem in terms of the grid that’s required to support what they’re putting in the marketplace in terms of fleet electrification. This, therefore, becomes somewhat of a personal problem for Levo. Graeme from Abacus Energy says that people are becoming aware of electricity as something more than flipping a switch and something comes on. People are now contemplating what decisions they can make as an educated informed consumer to help mitigate the risk to their family and their household, of being left without power. They are thinking about solar as a back-up, as storage and as cost reduction to their bill. Matt from Priority Power wraps it up by saying that newcomers into the energy space such as crypto miners are forcing regulators to rethink how they view load on the system. This transition is paving the way for a lot of really neat, innovative things that will allow new retailers to take advantage of this and they don’t have to beat their head against the wall from a regulatory perspective. It’s great if residentials can be flexible and respond to different price signals or different things on the grid when it’s in stress.

From left: Graeme Walker, Maggie Clancy and Dana Guernsey

Maura then turns to Dana from Voltus for an explanation of how they enable their customers and what they are giving them to enable them? Dana says that their customers do have a lot of choice. Voltus will install a hardware that gives the customer 24/7 real time insight into their own power usage data. It gives their customers the visibility they need to make an informed decision and gives Voltus the opportunity to send control signals to the customers telling them when to stop and start based on signals from the grid. Then, at the end of the day, they wrap that all up in the number one thing that they want the customer experience to be about – money. “So we pay our customers for their participation, we put it right in front of them, here’s how much you’re going to earn, here’s when you’re going to earn it, here’s why you’re going to earn it, here’s what happens if you don’t participate” Dana says. Data is the key piece of how they’re making decisions.

Maura then asks Tom from Energywell how they manage to marry something so void of emotion, such as data, with emotion and balance the need for it creating a connection with the customer that feels trusted and personal. He says that too much data can overwhelm a certain segment of the customer base but then there is also a segment that very much cares to know the load on the grid or the grid itself looks like at any given time of the day. This is making transparency accessible to non expert users. This can be somewhat of a risk because you don’t know if all of this data is going to scare someone or give them the tools they need to make actionable decisions. By visually presenting the information to the customers, you’re able to simplify a really complex power solution. Maggie from Levo Mobility then chimes in saying that for customers there’s a lot of emotion in being able to have real time data and knowing what’s going on with their vehicles, just to make sure that they have a level of certainty that everything is going to run as it should the next morning.

Maura then asks Graeme from Abacus Energy how they communicate with the homeowners, which is done through an app. He agrees with Tom’s point of view in being aware of not drowning the user in data that could overwhelm them. It becomes a balancing act of making sure that they can distill what is a huge dataset into an emotional decision for the customer for moving forward on a solar purchase.

Maura then directs her question to everyone, how they maintain trust with their customers as they grow. 

The panelists mentioned a few key things; do what you say you’re gonna do and be upfront and transparent about it even if it’s not such good news. Having a strong culture at the core is really critical and being able to know that you’ve got each other’s back and can collectively keep taking steps forward. Being able to demonstrate that you’re on the same side as the customers, goes a long way. In summary, building trust through transparency and the ability to serve customers with what they actually need rather than some generic thing that you’re able to put out there.

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