Data Analytics Are Here to Stay, But How Do We Maximize Their Value?

Jana Schmidt, President & CEO, Ecova

This is a full excerpt from the book Thought Leaders Speak Out: Key Trends Driving Change in the Electric Power Industry, Volume III published by the Edison Foundation Institute for Electric Innovation. The book features 20 essays by energy and technology company leaders, examining how trends such as rate and regulatory reform, data analytics, and energy grid modernization are transforming the electric power industry. 

The energy grid rapidly is becoming a platform for innovation. Energy providers across the United States are integrating data-collection mechanisms, software analytics, and smart devices into their networks. They also are bringing new products and services to their residential and commercial customers, ranging from more comprehensive energy efficiency offerings to distributed energy resources.

As these trends accelerate in the energy sector, there are lessons to be learned from other industries. Nearly a decade ago, the mobile industry began to encounter this same form of market transformation. The mass adoption of smartphones and tablets, improved wireless networks, and next-generation mobile apps revolutionized customer behavior. Customer mobile data usage grew seven-fold from 2010 to 2015.[i] All of these changes have had a profound influence on the way that wireless carriers managed their networks. The mobile industry overcame these challenges and adapted—largely because it had the tools to do so. The electric power industry now is deploying similar strategies, including new assets and incentives to optimize the energy grid and customer-centric data-driven services and technologies.

With change happening so quickly, we must be prepared to respond to evolving customer demands, even those we cannot yet predict or see. Ecova’s approach to delivering these results distills down to three ideas: data, insight, and action. This framework—powered by technology, people, and processes—serves as a platform to help guide energy providers in their strategy and execution of customer initiatives.

DATA

The Internet of Things (IoT) is in motion. It is architecting a progressively interconnected and decentralized energy grid, underpinned by a host of innovative services and technology systems. Electric companies are collecting more data than ever before—from the grid and from behind the meter—resulting in unprecedented visibility into customer behavior.

Ecova has millions of data streams across nearly 800,000 commercial and industrial sites under management—and we have learned from that experience. Capturing value from data requires a disciplined focus on harnessing the right type of data for a given solution.

Energy consumption data is the foundation for customer-specific recommendations on how to save money and electricity, while residential and business firmographics add a layer of depth in understanding how electric companies can message to individual customers. Looking beyond the meter, grid-level data allows electric companies to improve resource planning, network performance, and system operations, as well as to inform demand-side management efforts to manage the grid.

A wealth of data points is only as powerful as the method of application. Big data and technology are the backbone of a new energy future—with energy providers as the integrators and enablers of analytics solutions that unlock value from the data.

INSIGHT

Historically, analytics often have focused on data visualization and basic normalization (e.g., the amount of energy consumed per square foot). But, that is changing. Analytics are now able to identify problems and the solutions to fix them, and even predict what is likely to happen in the future. A new class of analytics is unearthing highly precise customer intelligence, relieving the need to mine and sift through vast amounts of data manually—the proverbial needle in the haystack.

At Ecova, we developed rapid energy modeling software to remotely analyze how commercial business customers are using energy and how they can improve, delivering accurate and personalized recommendations in minutes per building. Our digital engagement portal, used by energy providers including Consolidated Edison (Con Ed) and ENGIE Resources, engages businesses across their portfolios with operational and retrofit recommendations to save energy. The insights are often low-cost to implement, such as optimizing office thermostats based on hours of occupancy.

Ecova also leverages propensity analytics to compare customer characteristics and behaviors algorithmically, mapping those against a set of target customers to extrapolate their propensity to act in the future. All of these analytics-based initiatives attract new customers to participate in energy efficiency programs, deepening engagement and increasing customers’ satisfaction with their energy provider.

ACTION

As we think about the future of energy management, the low-hanging fruit is nearly gone. Large businesses and electric companies admirably have tackled lighting replacement, HVAC efficiencies, and high-leverage business process changes for energy-cost savings. What’s next? Bigger actions. Solving more complex challenges. This is where data and insight evolve into action, and mastering that convergence is the key to sustainable results.

Sophisticated analytics may scale up processes and run on their own, but convincing a customer to implement an energy efficiency or renewable project is not something that can be fully automated. I believe a services mindset is the cornerstone of any successful customer initiative: Energy providers need compelling strategies and the right people to make results happen for customers.

Consider an online marketplace for energy management, a solution that Ecova recently launched for Con Ed in New York City, to connect commercial customers interested in energy efficiency projects to specialized contractors who can implement those projects. Hosting this capability in a digital environment offers Con Ed a platform to introduce new value-added services and to drive benefits for both buyers and sellers. However, it takes more than an “if we build it, they will come” approach of activating a commercial marketplace. People from both Ecova and Con Ed are playing a key role in the process—in enrolling contractors, mobilizing projects, and working closely with businesses to develop the best solution for their needs.

*****

The fast-changing energy technology landscape sets the stage for us to reinvent the role that electric companies will play in serving customers tomorrow. Customers are counting on us to be ready for that future and to pursue solutions. Market-tested algorithms and software automation will provide opportunities to think differently about the problem. And, turning challenges into opportunities is what will keep energy providers at the center of their customers’ energy world, no matter what changes come our way.


[i] Amy Gahran, How much mobile data do you use?, July 13, 2010, www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/mobile/07/13/mobile.data; Chris Neiger, The Average American Uses This Much Wireless Data Every Month. How Much Do You Use?, January 24, 2015, www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/01/24/the-average-americanuses-this-much-wireless-data.aspx.


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