• Energy Efficiency
  • Utility-Customer Relationships
  • Utility Customer Engagement
  • Demand Side Management
  • COVID-19
  • Digital Utility Strategies

COVID-19 Is Pushing DSM Programs to Engage Customers in New Ways

Jessie Mehrhoff
May 21, 2020

Overhead Power Lines 4

The coronavirus pandemic has spurred innovation and new business models across industries. As the energy industry fuels our ability to navigate these times, it is also being pushed to address new pain points and better serve customers. For over 2 months, global utilities have been working to keep the lights on while assuring their customers that reliable, affordable energy is here to stay during trying times. Demand side management (DSM) can help achieve this stability as energy loads shift from commercial and industrial sites to the residential segment.

The effects of the energy industry’s adaptation span the entire energy supply chain. However, behind the messages of assurance, utilities and their partners are having to adjust their business models to keep these promises to customers. Following the pandemic’s onslaught, many energy efficiency programs were paused or stopped, straining the industry and causing utilities and their providers to adapt. While one should not downplay the jobs lost in the energy efficiency segment, the industry continues to pivot to meet customer needs by doing the following:

Utilities Are Adjusting Their Message

Utilities are working hard to ensure their customers recognize them as an ally during difficult times. Many utilities around the globe have agreed not to suspend service for forgone bill payments and have stopped charging late fees to customers who miss payments. More subtle shifts in the utility industry relate to how utilities are messaging about DSM programs during this time.

Rather than advertising programs to meet program targets or reduce congestion on the grid operator’s side of the meter, utilities are providing customers with the means to improve comfort while reducing expenses. In some instances, this means suggesting low or no cost options to customers. Results have been positive; several utilities and marketplace providers have reported an increase in sales of energy efficient products and better engagement with digital platforms. Customers are looking to their utility for tips and tricks to lower their higher than normal energy bills and maintain home comfort as they stay indoors for extended periods of time.

Program Implementers Are Adjusting to Support Their Utility Clients

While customers look to their utility for energy and money savings tips, utilities must be supported by program implementers and technology vendors that are also adjusting to the new normal. The entirety of the supply chain must adapt to enable utilities to meet their customers’ changing needs. Digital tools like virtual home assessments and online customer engagement platforms can be implemented by utilities looking to shift away from energy efficiency programs that relied on insights gathered or savings earned by sending a contractor to the home. Since program implementers typically serve utilities directly, the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus outbreak has fostered new conversations between these parties as both sides work to remain relevant.

The utility sector has been striving to become an ally to its customers for the past decade; after all, customers are rarely called ratepayers anymore. The current crisis has catalyzed a sense of urgency with these efforts. If utilities and their implementers navigate these future months well, they should come out on the other side with a toolset enabling them to implement lasting changes that strengthen customer relationships.