Last week marked another watershed moment in the climate crisis, as Canada experienced historic wildfires that severely impacted air quality in the northeastern U.S., with New York City experiencing its worst air quality on record. Climate disasters like these are becoming more frequent: this year, the US alone has experienced 9 official climate disasters, each costing over $1 billion and together causing the deaths of 99 people. These events warn us of a disturbing new normal if we don’t urgently reduce CO2 emissions through the energy transition.
Renewable energy has been identified as a crucial solution to reducing CO2 emissions globally. For years, this transition has been facilitated by government subsidies that encouraged large developers to expand solar and wind generation. However, the adoption of renewable energy goes beyond generation. To fully take advantage of renewables, we must change the way energy is distributed, managed, balanced, traded, and consumed. In this transition, consumers will be essential to making this change possible.
Renewables present new challenges
Renewables could provide almost 20% of global power generation in 2027, indicating significant progress toward a greener future. However, this also signals a surge in electricity demand — presenting a challenge for existing electrical grids and utility companies. Renewables produce intermittent and variable energy, meaning supply might not always match demand.
Existing grids struggle to handle increasing volumes of distributed devices, resulting in increased costs, and more system failures and blackouts as demand rises. To address this, we need a flexible, resilient, and dynamically managed grid to handle millions of energy assets worldwide in real time. Consumer flexibility, where consumers actively change their usage patterns, such as charging electric vehicles during periods of wind energy abundance rather than peak early evening hours, will play a vital role. Utilities must empower consumers to participate in these efforts. But how can utilities, which have notoriously low levels of consumer trust, get customers to engage?
Rebuilding trust through tech
Utilities face an uphill battle in convincing customers to embrace new products and initiatives, but there are proven paths to forge stronger connections with customers. Operations that prioritize consumers’ best interests are essential to developing customer confidence, leading to increased engagement. All-in-one technology platforms, like Kraken, can help address these concerns.
These platforms streamline utility operations, replacing disjointed legacy systems and providing a unified customer experience. They offer comprehensive access to customer data, including energy usage and communication history. Customer service teams can efficiently handle all customer issues without transferring customers between departments. Simultaneously, these platforms enable smart device management, allowing customers to set preferences and easily manage their accounts online.
It turns out that customers can tell the difference. When utilities embrace consumer-centered tech, workplaces become “action-orientated, data-driven, forward-thinking, collaborative, and agile,” and customer satisfaction scores soar.
Consumers are key to flexibility
When customers trust their utilities, they’re willing to embrace flexibility. This past winter, the UK’s National Grid Energy System Operator ran a demand flexibility program, incentivizing customers to reduce electricity usage during constraint times instead of relying on coal generation to meet peak demand. Consumers participated through their energy providers and responded enthusiastically. Approximately 1.6 million businesses and households partook, receiving millions in payments from their utilities and saving over 3,300MWh — enough energy to power almost 10 million homes.
As electrification of transportation and heating accelerates and more consumers adopt smart technologies in their homes, our electricity demand will grow and managing these devices will become crucial. Left unmanaged, extra demand will lead to higher grid management costs, and consumer energy rates. New consumer-centric products, like Kraken’s Smart Flex intelligent demand platform, can help utilities manage these assets.
Smart Flex automatically optimizes connected home devices to achieve consumer objectives, like making sure your EV is charged when you need it, while prioritizing the cheapest, greenest times to charge. This approach helps balance the grid and saves customers money. Globally, over 50,000 assets are on this tariff growing by 25% each month since its launch in January 2022 — showing that consumers are embracing management and optimization of their assets by their utilities.
This mobilization builds grid resilience and a cleaner future. Equipped with the right technology, utilities can treat consumers as partners in the energy transition, developing trust that can be parlayed into transformative engagement. Consumer participation enables utilities to leverage technology to enhance flexibility, create grid resilience and accelerate the journey to net zero — ultimately, reducing the likelihood of catastrophic climate disasters.