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by Greg Guthridge, Asia­Pacific Utilities Lead, Accenture

In an ever­changing world of digital devices and new technologies, there is an unprecedented demand for personalised energy options, shifting how Australian consumers interact with utilities and ultimately how the utility businesses run. Welcome to the brave new world of personalised energy, where utilities must utilise the streams of data at their disposal to benefit not only themselves, but to improve the experience of their customers as well.

Today, more than half of Australian consumers are interested in personalised energy options, with a recent industry study published by Accenture indicating that 59 per cent of survey respondents would consider becoming power self­sufficient over the next five years. Accenture’s research comes off the back of an Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) survey that found 89 per cent of Australians took steps to limit their personal electricity use between 2011 and 2012.

The phenomenal growth in consumer demand for personalised experiences has been sparked by a new crop of digital platforms like Uber and Airbnb, disrupting their respective marketplaces. In order to keep up, Australian energy providers are also being driven to meet this new standard of service provided by digital disruptors.

The global study from Accenture accounted for more than 11,000 energy consumers across 21 countries. Worldwide, it found that the adoption of digital platforms to manage bills, access account information and monitor energy usage has led to increased awareness of energy consumption. As a result, individual energy users are beginning to demonstrate a growing appetite for more extensive management programs and microgrids designed to optimise consumption. Despite this, only a small number of Australian energy providers are working to satisfy this demand.

Industry efforts to respond to the current market desires are further complicated by programs that have accelerated the dynamic and competitive nature of the energy market. ‘Energy Made Easy’ is one such program – an initiative of the Australian Government designed to help residential and small business energy consumers navigate electricity and gas retail markets to find a suitable energy offer.

Accenture’s study does, however, provide promising incentive for industry reform. The study revealed 71 per cent of Australian digital channel users believe energy providers can aid effective energy consumption management. It also found that more than half of the respondents are confident their energy provider could secure and protect personal data and information about energy usage. This is particularly significant given the amount of personal information provided by digital platforms and the need for consumer trust.

Although data security trust is high, only 32 per cent of respondents said they were confident energy providers would inform them about actions to optimise their energy use. The organisations most trusted to advise consumers on matters of energy efficiency were educational institutions, academics and scientific associations. AusGrid is one example of a provider raising the bar. The state­owned electricity infrastructure business offers the opportunity to build a free and personalised reporting solution to assist customers in monitoring and managing their energy usage. Energy Australia, one of the nation’s largest energy companies, also encourages better energy use through personal energy audits.

The industry needs to further invest in energy­smart technologies that deliver a more personalised usage solution and in turn strengthen consumer relations and trust. New energy efficiency tools have already started to flood the market; technology retailer Belkin offers a range of home automation Wi­Fi devices that turn devices on and off from any location, and monitor a device’s energy usage at any time. Revolutionary technology like Wattcost works as a remote electricity meter sensor to analyse and compare usage, and control costs. Similarly, HabiAdapt is an app that measures the energy you use, provides monitoring, advice and personal recommendations for better energy use.

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Growth in demand for personalised experiences has been sparked by digital platforms like Uber and Airbnb which disrupted their respective marketplaces.

Alongside energy management and digital solutions, energy providers have the opportunity to expand revenue streams by offering backup power services to address ‘outage anxiety’. Despite consumer interest in self­sufficiency, a significant majority (86 per cent) still want to be connected to the grid for backup power. It’s not economically feasible or practical for most customers to be completely off the grid. And although the economics will improve, the risk and cost of complete self-sufficiency still outweigh the benefits for most people. In repositioning themselves as the go to source for reliable energy support, energy providers will see new revenue streams open up.

The Australian energy market is a complex and evolving environment shifting to meet new consumer demands. In response to these new and competitive markets, energy providers can create new revenue streams by offering digital personalisation tools to power increased efficiency and energy optimisation. Energy companies and utilities providers should be looking for opportunities to leverage interest in personalised options now, particularly as consumer demand is high and continues to increase at a scalable rate.

Jessica Dickers is an experienced journalist, editor and content creator who is currently the Editor of Utility’s sister publication, Infrastructure. With a strong writing background, Jessica has experience in journalism, editing, print production, content marketing, event program creation, PR and editorial management. Her favourite part of her role as editor is collaborating with the sector to put together the best industry-leading content for the audience.

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