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Guy Champniss6/12/18 12:00 AM7 min read

Europe. Eurelectric. Engagement

In June, Enervee was invited to present a plenary session to senior management at the annual meeting of Europe’s leading energy providers. The over-arching topic was consumer engagement, and Enervee was there with a very simple message for utilities: if you want to engage your customers, then maybe you should start with giving them what they already want and expect from you?

Enervee’s own research shows consumers across markets want to make energy-smart choices but are currently blocked by market failures (notably vague or lumpy labelling practices — both in the US and Europe). Polling data also show that consumers are looking to their energy providers to give them this guidance but that very few consumers believe their utility is stepping up to meet this expectation (for these and wider results, see our post here).

To us here at Enervee, this is a wasted opportunity on a profound scale for utilities. Particularly so, as we feel that engaging consumers on energy-smart choices is fast-becoming an entry point for any wider, deeper and longer engagement strategy. Energy-smart buying is a gateway and a springboard to wider engagement (add own metaphor here — you understand what we’re saying). Considering the growing importance of engagement for retail energy providers, and this missed opportunity gets larger still. It also potentially signals that other — potentially more consumer-savvy — players may step in to provide such services. The opportunity is too great.

And whilst this is very much the case for appliances, lighting and anything else with a plug on the end at home, it’s even more important when it comes to EV adoption. Once again, energy companies could barely contain their excitement at the thought of the electrification of mobility, prompting several European utility CEOs to speak creatively and poetically of the opportunity (when was the last time a utility CEO shunned IRR and CapEx language for talk of fluidity and motion?).

But when the room was asked what was the biggest barrier to EV adoption, by far the most popular views focused on grid and infrastructure issues. Only 4% believed it was consumer awareness.

This says a lot about the continued focus of utilities on their own issues of supply and infrastructure, and the minimal attention they give consumers. It’s also wrong. Research shows consumers are less able to name an EV model today than they were four years ago. Awareness — beyond the tiny EV bubble — is still woefully low. For utilities not to see this as a consumer engagement opportunity is a challenge. Plus add to this consumers’ clear desire to have an EV in terms of features (specifically running costs and emissions) — even if they don’t know what they want is an EV — and the glaring opportunity gets brighter still.

With Enervee showcasing its latest choice engine — Enervee Cars — at the event, it’s not surprising there was interest in using much needed EV adoption as a wider engagement opportunity.

But enough of Enervee. Eurelectric’s Power Summit 2018 was interesting — and even surprising — in a number of ways. Here are our Top 5 take-outs from Europe’s premier energy conference:

1. Making Energy Visible

We often talk about how the Enervee Score makes energy visible and engaging for consumers (and we know it works superbly well as a decision-aid). But the conference had another advocate of the concept — Studio Roosegarde. Designer and founder Daan Roosegarde walked through several creative design solutions to make consumers more aware of energy (and potentially more mindful of its use in the process). One particularly good visualisation of energy was the Van Gogh cycle path.

2. How to make conservation behaviour valuable and beautiful?

This was from Studio Roosegarde again, and is such an elegant and captivating idea. Based on capturing carbon from smog-heavy city spaces (via their own ‘smog hoover’ design) the agency wanted to find a way to represent that smog saving in something beautiful and tangible for individuals. Their idea was to take the carbon saved, compress the smog particles and create the smog fee ring. Each ring represents 1000m3 of smog removed from the urban environment.

This immediately got me thinking of how we may be able to turn kWh saved into something more akin to a behaviour souvenir for the efforts. As Daan Roosegard concluded: ‘If we only have tech, no-one really engages. If we only have beauty, no-one does more than look. When we have both, we create impact.’ Huge potential.

3. What do people really want?

What sounded like a throw-away question towards the end of the initial keynote session revealed something important — for me at least. When both Daan Roosegarde and Chris Brauer (Director of Innovation, Goldsmith’s College, London) were asked what they wanted as energy consumers (after all, even keynotes at conferences get their energy from a utility), these were their answers:

Chris Brauer: ‘I want a seamless service from my utility. I want my utility to let me effortlessly know how much I’m using, how much I could save, how to do that and when. It’s got to be about more than my meter — it needs to represent all aspects of my life, as my life involves me using energy. Every day.

Daan Roosegarde: ‘I want personalisation. Complete personalisation. I want predictions on how my actions can impact me and my family. I am not average, I am not typical. I’m me, and energy — my use of energy — helps define who I am.

Both then agreed — they want a suite of personalised services that provide a lifestyle autopilot when it comes to smart energy use. And these are services that use the language of people, not of machines. Power my life, please (using as little power as possible). It was almost a pitch for Enervee’s product roadmap.

4. Suddenly purpose is important

I mentioned above that some senior figures were discovering their inner poets at the event. As an ex-creative, I’m delighted to see creativity make an appearance in utilities, and right at the top (poets will inherit the world, as I used to say on my MBA…). But there was also talk of purpose beyond power, and that utilities (European utilities) can provide stability and security in an increasingly fragmented and paranoid environment. Francesco Starace, Enel CEO Enel and Eurelectric President, put it very simply: ‘I want us to be seen as enablers; enablers of progress. I have no problem with being called a utility — my primary role is to provide utility, to be useful and integral to society.’

If this is a sign of things to come, could European utilities really be beginning to see their role shift? Are we on the brink of consumer-focused energy providers?

5. Learned helplessness?

There’s a concept in psychology called learned helplessness. It describes when someone realises there’s no getting out of a particular situation of condition, and their behaviour modifies itself to be submissive. We think we’re helpless and so stop attempting to resolve the situation, even if it causes us pain (the experiments that isolate the effect are shocking in terms of lab animals ceasing to avoid electric shocks or intense heat, knowing they cannot get away from it).

At the end of the conference, there was a hint of such learned helplessness in the room. When asked who they felt would lead the wave of new energy products and services for consumers in the near future, the most popular response by attendees was ‘not us’. More precisely, they voted it would be the likes of Google and Amazon. XX % voted, to be precise.

After so much promise in the previous two days, is this a sign of utilities giving up on the consumer fight before it’s really begun? I cannot believe that to be the case. And maybe the sample in the room was not truly representative. But it’s worth remembering one thing about learned helplessness — it’s perceived i.e. it’s when we think we cannot resolve the issue. When we look at utilities (in Europe and the US) and the sheer volume of consumers — of households, lives and ambitions — that depend on them, the opportunity to convert that relationship into myriad new services and propositions is colossal. Propositions to drive progress. If utilities really do not see this opportunity — and their unique position in realising that opportunity — then the need for a consumer-centric mindset is even more needed.