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Prepping for the prosumer with the right playbook

Let’s talk about the prosumer. You know the prosumer—even if you may not personally know a prosumer.

A few years ago--let's say five--the prosumer was still an "enduser" and no utility talked much about her. Today, I've heard the word "prosumer" at least a dozen times in the last two days of European Utility Week 2019 (#EUW19).

So, who is a prosumer? What are her key personality traits?

The prosumer isn’t passive. She wants unprecedented info, numbers and communication options with her electric supplier. The prosumer is that neighbor at the end of your street who wants to know her own energy consumption numbers—and know she’s beating energy consumption numbers for every other household on that block. The prosumer is that millennial calling you once a week asking questions about when you’ll pay more attention to clean energy and how he might be able to get in on the ground floor of that.That prosumer is your local uni student wanting to make sure the energy she's using fits into her sustainable world view, and she's going to push hard if it doesn't.

So, are utilities really ready for the prosumer? 

The short answer: yes.

I can think of a number of utilities already prepping for the prosumer: Baltimore’s BGE, New York’s Con Edison, Chicago’s ComEd, California’s SMUD, New Zealand’s Mercury and French gas distributor GRDF are just a few.

BGE is ready for your prosumer neighbor. They’re helping customers save energy with peak day programs. Sharing that personalized meter data has already made a difference. The utility has seen an 80% participation rate.

Con Edison could take on your millennial prosumer’s clean energy dreams. They’re pairing their own smart meters with New York’s statewide “Reforming the Energy Vision” (REV) push, which lays out new ways government, utilities and customers can work together toward a faster, smarter, cleaner energy future.

BGE & Con Edison have told us all about their work with smart meter rollouts: lessons learned, grid ops optimized, ROIs achieved and prosumers proactively brought into the dialogue.

GDRF recently hit the four million meters mark on their roll-out just recently, the world's largest smart meter push. And they have more to do. They plan to hit 11 million by 2023. (And we were proud to help with that. More on how we did that here.)

So, what can we all learn from these projects (and from others discussed during European Utility Week 2019 in Paris) about prepping for the prosumer? 

(1.) Shift from focusing on the tech build and thinking about consumer benefits after and, instead, put prosumer desires first--as in part of the planning process.

(2.) While the shiny new options that AI and real-time analytics can bring to the prosumer are delightful, never forget your foundation: reliability should always come first.

(3.) Set aside some time to better use the infrastructure you already have with programs that tie in the community, making it all smarter and more efficient. (Doing that is much easier than building new and makes your prosumer on that older network embrace that sustainability vibe.)

(4.) Make more room for the prosumer in your every process. In fact, think larger scale, even. Think ahead--not just about what they will want to know today but also what they'll want to know tomorrow.

In the end, the tipping point is coming (as one #EUW19 speaker put it). 

What's that? That's the moment when the majority of customers stop thinking about the cost of your utility offering first and foremost and, instead, start caring most about the value your services bring.

And that tipping point isn't 50 years down the road. It's likely closer to 10 or even 5.

We’ll be live blogging from European Utility Week all week right here. Keep an eye out or follow us on Twitter for real-time event coverage.

Read more about/inspired by European Utility

Editor's note: Cover shot taken Nov. 12, 2019 by the author. Filter added.

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