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Informed Utility Customers Want More Renewable Energy and Utilities Do, Too

On Monday during the Itron Utility Week (IUW) event in Scottsdale, Arizona, the company unveiled its 4th resourcefulness report, which measures how informed consumers (defined as energy consumers who think about their utility bill)  and utility executives view how well their utility is wisely and carefully using water and energy resources.

Vice President, Global Marketing and Public affairs, Marina Donavan, presented three of the report’s key findings in the opening keynote for IUW.

First, she said that most informed consumers see the biggest detriments to resourcefulness in utility operations are inefficiency and waste. They cite old or aging infrastructure and not enough renewable energy as the main reasons for their dissatisfaction. They also think that utilities are not innovative enough.

Interestingly, utilities executives agree with this assessment and also want to develop methods to reliably and affordably invest in new, innovative technology and renewable energy.

In fact, the report showed that integrating renewables is a shared goal. It is the No. 1 unmet need among utilities; for consumers, it’s the number one goal they have for utilities.

Itron President and CEO, Philip Mezey said Itron was particularly struck by that finding because the conventional wisdom, he said, has always been that renewables are desirable but too expensive but since costs have dropped so much in recent years, that is no longer the case.

“The magic circle for us has been finding a way to deliver cleaner energy at the same or lower price and that is actually possible,” he said in an interview.

Another key theme that Itron uncovered in its resourcefulness report is that both utilities and consumers point fingers at each other when it comes to who holds the burden of using resources more wisely. Utilities think customers should make better decisions about their energy and water use and customers think it’s the utility’s job to use resources wisely. One key takeaway here for utilities is education.

Most consumers said they are willing to take part in demand response programs as well as learn ways to conserve energy (and cut their electric bills) but they don’t know how. Itron’s Donavan added that while many utilities have customer engagement programs in place, “the world is changing” in terms of information delivery. Utilities need to change with the world and figure out new ways to educate customers. Social media, apps, live events are examples of ways that utilities could better educate their customers.

The last theme that Donavan presented at IUW keynote was on smart cities. The resourcefulness report revealed that most consumers are ready for smart cities and utilities are, too. Smart cities reduce waste and increase resourcefulness, by for example, using dynamic street-lighting, where lights on sensors come on when cars or people approach them but are otherwise dim. The good news, said, Donavan, is that this smart city future is already happening with programs in place all across the world.

The Itron Resourcefulness Report is surveyed more than 1000 informed consumers and more than 1000 utility executives in more than 10 countries. You can learn more about it on the company’s website.