Tag Archives: Solar

Energy brands and strategic vision

 

Retail energy strategy is about finding the right positioning and implementing it. Energy company branding is not simple for energy providers, positioning on the market requires a deep knowledge of how energy consumers behave and how the market can be disrupted. For incumbent utilities, this can be a difficult task since consumers have an already established idea of what the utility is and what it does and how it reacts. The utility company and the idea consumers have about it is changing, both with the entrance of smaller newcomers and changing technology.

The age of consumer choice in power markets

Power providers have been unbundled in most liberalised markets and the challenge for all participants in the market is to unlock customer value by creating brand value that gives the customer a reason to choose. Customers that have been indifferent towards their energy suppliers are slowly but surely responding to marketing programs and branding in the energy space. What has become the most common form of differentiation in market messages on the energy market has been a green positioning, focusing on the renewables that the energy provider can source for their customers.

Renewable Energy Strategies

Renewable energy strategies can vary, depending on the market and how customers on the market perceive renewables. In most countries, solar and wind are considered to be THE sources of renewable energy while sources such as nuclear and especially hydro are branded as sustainable or clean sources of electricity. While solar and wind are still sufficient to power regular homes, the technology is not just there in terms of scale and efficiency to give reliable power to large-scale industrial users. Many large companies are, however, demanding renewable energy to power their production or be the backbone of their services. It does not matter how green/renewable/sustainable/clean the source of the energy is. What matters is that the brand that is promoting the source of energy that it sells to its customers is also a sustainable brand. Being a sustainable brand is not about renewing the colour palette to reflect a greener colour.

Customer engagement strategy

The brands that are able to deliver results in connecting to the minds of consumers are the brands that are delivering a higher purpose. It is not just a matter of the cover – it is also about the contents inside. The truly effective energy brands are about changing the status quo. Effective brands set out to change the world. They identify gaps in the market by thinking like a consumer. Often they are founded by regular consumers that are fed up with the way things are done. From the start, these brands are equipped with a vision. Their strategic market entry is done by a narrow customer segmentation – by being focused on a niche market that they can expand further down the road.

Doing something new

The top companies for customer experience are not myopic about technology. Smart metering is an add-on to the experience but it can not the solution to everything. If a brand is not well crafted and lacks strategy and vision, the execution of the possibilities of smart metering will at best become awkward. Utility analytics and customer engagement metrics are a valuable add-on for the energy marketer and anyone interested in maintaining a brand. Smart metering enables customer engagement metrics and smart customer service but customer engagement and loyalty do not come automatically with smart meters and smart meter data. People engage with brands – not technology. Technology enables further customer engagement in energy and it can help customer segmentation. But technology and user interface must be appealing and easy for customers. To be able to make it easy for customers, companies need a good user interface and to be able to design a good user interface, energy companies need to be able to understand the end customer.

The Future of Energy

The future of energy is customer choice. Customers are already able to choose a supplier in deregulated markets but energy consumers around the world are already able to choose if they bypass the regulated monopolies altogether through microgrids, their own rooftop solar or other ways of localised small-scale production of energy. The future of energy is in the hands of the consumer and the energy companies that are able to build their value proposition according to the needs of the consumers will own the future.

 

 

 

Perceptions of Green Energy

Sources of Energy
How the EPA categorises different sources of energy. Source: www.epa.gov

We hear and read terms like renewablessustainable energy, green energy quite a lot these days. We could add carbon neutral, eco-friendly energy and ecological into the mix of buzz words surrounding different sources of electricity.

Defining the term

These terms have defined by public agencies such as the EPA as can be seen in the infographic above or have been defined by scholars and academics. The term green can mean one thing for an energy source and a different thing for a consumer product. The term green can also mean one thing according to the EPA and another thing according to academia and something completely different in the eyes and ears of the end consumer – the definition might be interchangeable in the mind of the person using the term or witnessing someone else using it.

The definition of Renewable energy is quite simple – the source does not deplete natural resources it uses, they can renew themselves within a human lifetime. It seems a reasonable definition that fits the term well.

The definition of green energy is more debatable

One definition of green is simply an energy source that replaces an energy source that pollutes more. Under that umbrella, coal is considerably greener than it was 200 years ago but it would take a big effort in convincing someone that coal should be categorised as being green. Natural gas has replaced coal considerably in the US in the last decade with the effect of the US lowering greenhouse emissions more than most other countries. Natural gas might not be up to the EPA standards of being a Green source of energy but would fit the standard of polluting less than the coal it replaced.

Nuclear in the eye of the beholder

An interesting source of power is nuclear. Many people point out that to date, nuclear has caused less environmental and human harm than any other source of power. The incidents that have happened have been heavily publicised and that the generation of power in itself does not cause any environmental harm – it is just a question of what is done with the waste produced by the generation. But no energy retailer in their right mind would brand their nuclear source of energy as green, especially with environmental activists heavily protesting the transport of the waste around Europe. EDF in the UK branded their low carbon nuclear energy as being Blue energy.

For the energy consumer in an Eastern-European country that got coal-powered energy plants with Soviet-Era technology (instead of Soviet nuclear plant like their neighbouring country), Nuclear energy is green. The layers of coal-dirt from the Soviet era bear witness to how clean the generation of Nuclear Energy is. But trying to tell that to an environmentally conscious Greenpeace member in Germany would result in a branding backslash.

Green is the new brown

The green-electricity claim is tricky. What we have learned from both speakers and guests and nominees for the CHARGE Awards in the last two years is that in order to be able to call themselves Green – brands need to be able to Talk the Talk as well as Walk the Walk. Credible green energy brands need to be green to the core for the consumer to trust them. It has become more valuable than ever to have a strong brand that consumers trust to convey a green-brand message. Green Sources of energy have become something that almost everyone is offering. Building a green energy brand requires more than the source of energy itself. The whole chain of energy marketing needs to deliver a coherent green and sustainable brand communication.

 

 

 

The Decentralisation and democratisation of Energy

There are many current challenges in the energy sector. The sector is adapting to increased demand for sustainable energy and balancing new renewable sources with the current loads of the users connected to the grid. The generation of energy by renewables such as wind and solar at industrial scale is not the only challenge the utilities need to find a sustainable way to implement but also how to feed the electricity created by distributed generation and prosumers onto the grid.

Communicating with prosumers

These challenges are not only for the engineers to figure out – they create an energy marketing challenge – how good are the energy brands in communicating with end customers of energy and how strong are the brands in creating a dialogue with different stakeholders in order to implement the renewables and different types of technology and adapt users to the new reality of the energy space.

A new two-way dialogue between energy company and consumer

Distributed generation and prosumers have created a whole new dialogue between utilities and the public – the public is no longer just the recipient of energy but is starting to feed electricity into the grid. It has been a headache for the regular consumer to understand the normal energy bills, imagine how the regular prosumer is able to understand the bill when he or she is the one charging the utility. This requires clear communication, good utility marketing and a good energy marketing communication needs the clear vision of the energy brand behind it.

De-centralising Energy

The democratisation of energy will happen on some scale in the coming years. The advancements in solar technology and small-scale generation of energy mean that price will come down. Powered by blockchain technology and smart devices, microgrids will begin to become more frequent where people trade energy they generate with their neighbours. Peer to peer trading of energy might become as common as running water is today. The energy customer of tomorrow might sell excess electricity that came from the rooftop and stored in their car onto the grid. Development and implementation of vehicle-to-grid solutions has already begun.

Adjusting to a new reality

Energy companies, whether it is the traditional utility or energy retailers might have to adjust to this new reality of microgrids and peer to peer energy trading. Although the need for their traditional services might not be as needed as it is today, they are trusted as experts in electricity and their brands might take advantage of that brand asset. Energy as a service will become an invaluable part of the business model and it will be interesting to follow the development of the unique value propositions that the future energy brands will offer their customers.

 

Can the incumbent utility brand itself green?

Jim Rogers, the retired former CEO of Duke Energy was the first CEO of a major utility to address environmental issues and once named by Newsweek as one of the “50 Most Powerful People in the World”.

In his presentation at the Green Energy track at CHARGE 2016, Jim talked about the customer relationship during the transformation of the Power Industry in the United States.

Duke Energy has the reputation of being affordable, reliable and safe. No one would say that they were green, they were the highest contributors of Co2 in the United States.

You can’t brand yourself unless you walk the talk.

Duke Energy has cut down Co2 emissions by almost 30 per cent but Jim admits that although the number seems high and the amount of emissions cut is quite large, the company is still a major contributor of Co2 emissions in the United States. For the effort, the company has been on the Dow Jones sustainability index for eleven years.

Branding: it’s not what you say about yourself, but what others say about you.

In addition to cutting down emissions, the company has made some considerable investments in wind and solar as well as investing in solutions that provide customers with rooftop solar.

The key point in adapting to and investing in green technology is to be able to communicate with and educate different stakeholders. The customer expects affordability and the investor want to see that the company will see a return on their green energy investment.

As Jim put it, the company invested in where the wind blows and the sun shines as well as looking at opportunities where the regulatory environment is favourable towards green investment.