By Anne Weatherston, Executive-Technology and Change, Energy Australia
There was a time when customers had no choice when it came to energy. They didn’t have the option of solar, central or independent, from whom and at what price. In this historic context, EnergyAustralia’s core business was once the generation of energy from large power stations, predominantly fuelled by coal and gas, and the supply of that output to homes and businesses. We were the classic gentailer at a time when energy was boring and we viewed an asset as the heart of the business – not the customer. In the face of technology alternatives and new entrants to our sector, each with different propositions, this model ceases to exist.
Today the sector is changing. Retailers – including EnergyAustralia – must adapt and lead this effort because customers expect more of us. Our new strategy and identity has necessitated a whole of business transformation. It’s a journey we have been on for more than three years.
Back in 2015, one immediate change was the creation of a business unit solely focused on the development of next generation products and services. This business, NextGen, encouraged the mindset of a startup; an incubator to advance our strategy by innovative means.
We made changes in our company structure with greater emphasis placed on customer-facing roles. New skills were recruited across the group, many from telecommunications, an industry that had undergone similar disruption.
To guide their activities, we defined a new IT strategy to support the capability required of our new customer-centric business.
This strategy is moving EnergyAustralia from the single activity of billing to a full-function retailer, able to rapidly scale, evolve and respond as new market and customer requirements emerge.
An initial and high priority was the design and implementation of a new data and analytics platform that would, in time, provide insights to inform all our activities as they relate to the customer.
Telling you something about our desire to move with pace, in 2016 we won an award at Oracle OpenWorld for the fastest global implementation of the Oracle Hadoop platform.
A further award followed for our innovative approach to database design.
While our customer interactions today are still predominantly through the contact centre, we are committed to delivering an experience that meets customers’ expectation for exceptional service.
Today we view these digital assets with equal importance to our generation fleet.
Using technology to better connect with customers
In 2017, we launched a new interactive gas and electricity online bill to make it easier for families and businesses to manage their accounts, and understand exactly how much they’re paying for energy.
It’s about putting the customer back in control of their energy so they save money, even if that means using less.
In 2018, we were pleased to receive the highest average overall score by international consumer research agency Global Reviews.
Three years running we have ranked first in the index across the desktop and mobile categories, compared with energy retailers in Australia, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
These platforms are the window to our business and it’s now an expectation within our industry to keep pace.
We need to keep optimising and refining the online experience; to never become complacent.
Our business can’t deliver the next wave of energy innovation on its own, so we’re actively seeking out the best and brightest new startups to partner with.
We launched a new accelerator program in partnership with Startupbootcamp.
In an Australian first, ten energy startups participating in the global accelerator program recently pitched their ideas aimed at finding solutions to the “trilemma”: security, affordability and sustainability.
We will be progressing further trials with at least three groups.
One example of a technology-based partnership we have formed is with Redback Technology, a Brisbane-based startup.
Together we have brought to market the Redback Smart Hybrid System, which offers insights to the customer on when to use their solar or draw on their battery; when to sell into the grid and when to import from it.
We are also involved in a government-backed pilot to deliver 50 megawatt (MW) of demand response in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.
To put that into context, 50MW is about the level of capacity you need to power 12,500 homes.
Investigating new forms of generation
At the other end of the spectrum, we are investigating partnerships to help us find alternative and sustainable sources of supply.
We’re exploring new approaches, like energy recovery and a pumped hydro storage facility – both Australian firsts.
Together with Re.Group, we are assessing the viability of augmenting the 1400MW Mt Piper Power Station in New South Wales with lower emissions generation.
This project involves unlocking the energy in ordinary, non-recyclable household waste.
Meanwhile, the seawater pumped hydro project with partner Arup Group would be the first of its kind.
Proposed for South Australia, the facility has potential to produce 225MW of electricity, with around eight hours of storage.
All this from pumping water up a hill when supply exceeds demand, and releasing it to generate electricity when needed.
Both technologies combine a traditional energy approach but in a new context.
We like to think they’re a metaphor for a future in which a business like ours, one with a long history in traditional forms of energy, can evolve to become part of what will be an exciting energy system.
It’s a destination where not one customer will be left behind.
Anne Weatherston is an experienced leader of business and IT transformation. She has worked in this capacity across a variety of industries with extensive financial services experience and most recently, the energy sector. She is currently the Technology and Change Executive. In this role Anne is responsible for oversight of the company’s change agenda which is focused on transforming EnergyAustralia from a generator of energy to becoming a world-class retailer, providing next generation products and services to serve customers.
This partner content is brought to you by EnergyAustralia. For more information, visit www.energyaustralia.com.au