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Tracking the Digital Journey of Indian Utilities from Obstacle to Opportunity

Ken Haig
Senior Director Regulatory Affairs for Oracle

Indian energy providers face a triple challenge today—how to maintain system reliability while keeping a close watch on both consumer needs and environmental concerns.

The largest consumer need is basic: They need power. Period.

India has a large number of people without access to electricity; that’s a large population without energy security.  This is a real challenge. There are a series of government programs pertaining to power addressing this with the vision of 24x7 reliable, clean and smart power for all.

That electrification vision, coupled with advancements in new distributed energy sources (solar, wind), are causing a disruption in the way energy is produced and exchanged, a disruption in the availability of information and the way in which data is operationalized, a disruption in the way they serve customers. 

This level of disruption requires utilities to be quite agile in how they operate and run their businesses, and that agility, while required to evolve, also offers a lot of opportunity going forward.

For example, a number of smart meter rollouts are planned or in progress. The value of smart meters to date has typically been seen on the operational side, but there is a lot of value to customers as well—and, through them, to the grid as a whole (in terms of aggregating the impact of individual consumers across the entire grid).

But it’s important to consider this entire initiative is still in the early days. In the United States, only half of all households have smart meters installed, and already the amount of data that is generated from these is rivals that generated from social media each year.

That’s a lot of data that could be put to good use—e.g. to empower consumers and help them save money and select the rates, technologies, and services that are most relevant for them. In tandem, this data is critical for grid-wide load management with wider adoption of demand side management, distributed energy resources and more.  

But smart meter roll-out success is also dependent on customers being engaged—and that is both a big obstacle and a big opportunity in one.

To get the most out of smart meters, utilities need to create a customer smart-meter journey that should run before, during and after the rollout.  Most importantly, after installation, once enough historical data is collected, utilities need to start demonstrating the value of smart meters to customers by offering energy savings tidbits, time of use rate-related advice, online energy management tools, and personalized insights.

To date, residential and domestic customers have been hard to reach, due to a few reasons.

For starters, the average customer doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about their energy use; so there is a high bar to getting and keeping their attention. Individual domestic customers’ usage is not that large on its own, but at an aggregate level, it is significant. The challenge is how to reach each and every customer and motivate changes in behavior at a scale that will help drive territory-wide utility business goals and grid-wide impact.

The good news: reaching each and every consumer is not that difficult, if using (for example) the right customer engagement platform, one that combines a cloud-based platform for agility with big data analytics and behavioral science approaches to promote customer engagement, empowerment, and behavior change where it makes sense, such as Oracle Utilities Opower.

 

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