A new report by US global engineering and consulting firm Black & Veatch explores how advances in telecommunications, automation and data analytics are changing the relationship between utilities and their customers.
Fred Ellermeier, the company’s managing director says that it is “critical” for utilities to help their customers gain a deeper understanding of next generation tech for rollouts to be successful.
The report, “2015 Black & Veatch Strategic Directions: Smart Utility” provides an analysis of planning, investment, security challenges and opportunities along with insights on how utilities and cities can achieve their service, resiliency and, ultimately, smart city goals.
Ellermeier stated that developing agile network technologies is equally important as the utility educating its customer base about the benefits of smart technology. He adds that customers are used to seeing images of a perfectly integrated energy system and smart city, but many are still doubtful about its advantages and implementation.
He said: “Customers are still wrestling with, and sceptically questioning, what it means to live in a smart city or draw power from a smart grid.
“Confusion persists, and some utilities are reluctant to push ahead with investments,” continued Ellermeier
Kevin Cornish, executive consultant at Black & Veatch, found that smart utility rollouts have faced resistance and have been “plagued by scepticism” at customer level.
He notes that a utility’s challenge comes in educating and convincing residents of the “required cost of smart grid updates and the steps customers can take at home – often with the help of utility-provided devices – to enable their own smarter choices.”
The '2015 Black & Veatch Strategic Directions: Smart Utility' report found that 58% of utilities, cities and organizations had not announced a smart utility or smart initiative.
Utility perceptions that smart initiatives were “not applicable” to organizational missions and a lack of education and information about smart improvements were among the top contributors to the utilities’ holding back on rollouts.
“Many utilities understand the benefits of smart grid investments but are struggling with how to communicate their vision,” said Cornish. “In some cases, they may simply prefer to let larger institutions make the first moves and demonstrate their effectiveness.”
According to the Ellermeier and Cornish, education is key to reinforce their bond with customers communicate new, efficient ways of delivering services.
“A plan that communicates how the utility and its customer base are invested in each other will go far toward incentivizing residents to act as partners,” Cornish said.
Ellermeier added: “We believe it will be crucial for utilities pondering an investment in smart solutions to develop a comprehensive plan that is tailored to a community’s needs.
“In addition, that plan must include an aggressive customer education component to instil trust and pre-empt suspicions about the utility’s motives.”