2017 // The Year of DIY Energy

2017 // The Year of DIY Energy

As a new political regime takes the stage, 2017 should be an interesting year—but what does the year hold in store for energy? The momentum that’s built over the past several years toward a more distributed, cleaner grid—does it continue to plow ahead? Or run off a cliff Thelma and Louise-style? And what do these changes mean for utilities and their customers?

To answer these questions, I picked the brains of fellow Zprymers—co-founders Jason Rodriguez and Mark Ishac, and our ace-research analyst, Erin Hardick. We think the momentum will continue, but certainly without national-level support at minimum and national-level pushback at maximum. However, with every challenge comes an opportunity. We believe that 2017 will be the year of do-it-yourself, underground, creative efforts to continue toward a clean, digitized and sustainable energy future.

Creativity and climate change.

Erin pointed out that we’re already starting to see momentum build for creative climate solutions that don’t rely on the federal government, and we expect these efforts to continue to grow in 2017. From Bill Gates’ announcement of a billion-dollar investment fund into transformative energy research to Elon Musk and everything Tesla, private organizations are fueling efforts to tackle climate change. We’re also seeing the public sector tackle climate change on a more local level—a great example coming from a recent Zpryme webinar that explored the City of Boston’s climate efforts. Combatting climate change is certainly not dead, in fact, it is getting better, and people are going to find increasingly innovative ways to take action.

Policy, not technology will influence customers.

Okay, so the national efforts will have influence. Mark noted that politically, the new administration is going to impact the customer the most with respect to energy. Whether it be fewer subsidies for clean energy, or rising oil prices, or measures that support coal—efforts such as these shape how customers approach energy. As much as great technologies can empower energy customers, larger policies and economic influences ultimately shape their perspectives. As a result, strengthening the utility-customer relationship will become even more urgent for 2017 as utilities have the opportunity to significantly influence their communities. This is where utilities can really step up.

Utilities tackle branding.

A major theme at ETS17 will be customer engagement, and as we see progress in strengthening the utility-customer relationship, one place we’re starting to see utilities work on is branding to better connect with customers. Jason said that although they’re in the minority right now, some utilities are starting to take Fortune 500-approaches to marketing their legacy brands, and be front and center with their customers. Now this isn’t just a nice billboard from a utility reminding people about energy efficiency or paying their bills online. We’re talking about stories, videos and even documentaries to help the industry and their customers understand the power we have at more local levels to drive change. We expect to see utilities start to embrace increasingly creative branding opportunities to better connect with customers in 2017.

We are not alone.

To truly embrace change, it isn’t just about technology, or branding, or thinking creatively. And it isn’t just on utilities to drive innovation. We’re finding that enabling a cleaner, smarter, more distributed grid requires action from across the industry—including technology and solution providers, as well as manufacturers and startups. We’ve talked with many utilities who have lamented that it is difficult to change the structure of their organizations when technology providers continue to deliver the largely the same products and services with the same pricing and implementation structures. Startups can inject new ideas, but often need partners to be able to deploy their ideas at scale. Both market players and utilities must work together to redefine how we approach technology investments, and how we transform the utility business model. 2017 is going to be a year where we see some true change in redefining these relationships to enable more local, grassroots innovation.

This coming year is really a new opportunity to get creative, to think outside-the-box, about ways to move toward the next generation of energy. So, roll up your sleeves, break out the power tools—and maybe the hot glue gun—and let’s get started on 2017.

By H. Christine Richards, Zpryme Director of Research