The main activity, what do I say ?, the sole activity of energy companies vis-à-vis their residential customers has been, for decades, to provide and sell them, gas and electricity, in seemingly unlimited quantity and with a minimum of shortages.
For some years now, evolutions have disturbed this situation:
- The opening of markets introduces competition which no longer allows a “passive” supply of energy, in the sense that there is nothing to change a supply with apparently satisfactory characteristics.
- Households can become electricity producers whose energy supplier is no longer the sole provider.
- Micro-producer households and consumers located in their neighborhood can now group them into communities sharing these micro-productions.
- Only the consumption flows gave rise to a transaction: the energy sold to the consumer. Henceforth the production provided by a residential consumer as well as a non-consumption is valued.
- The rise of electric vehicles combined with the energy efficiency of housing changes the hierarchy of consuming energy applications: the thermal applications (heating, air conditioning) remains important but is about to be dethroned by the electric mobility whose needs are very specific.
- Many solutions are emerging for better energy efficiency: heat district networks, storage and local optimization of energy, fuel cells, heat pumps, etc. They have the effect of locating part of the energy “systems” among residential consumers.
- Thanks to Powerline Carriers, Power Over Ethernet and other technologies, convergence becomes possible between yesterday’s very distinct fluids: electricity and data.
How energy companies should or can position themselves in relation to these developments? They owned the whole chain of production, distribution: a part of it escapes now. They mastered and managed all the energy flows and associated transactions: part of them now escapes them.
Three directions of thinking make it possible to answer the questions that arise:
- In all cases, energy companies need to differentiate themselves: suppliers, to develop or protect their market share, producers to make their production more attractive, network managers to appear as vectors of transition and energy performance. No one can now be content to prolong his past activity at the risk of dying, economically or politically.
- Energy companies can choose to maintain a traditional position while bringing a higher value: for a supplier, this means continuing to sell gas or electricity but, either cheaper or with a reduced environmental impact, or even by taking care better of the customer relationship. This differentiation is quickly perceived by a consumer and quickly implemented: it allows rapid results. But it seems to ignore many of the changes listed above.
- Energy companies may no longer sell energy but energy intelligence. This intelligence can be broken down into 4 criteria:
- The multi-fluid dimension: given the client, the performance of the energy supply in terms of cost, security, services and resilience requires a multi-fluid supply and, potentially, local optimization. Single-fluid providers cannot access such a level of response.
- The delegation of operation: residential consumers can/want to acquire a degree of energy autonomy without perceiving the risks and without having a precise idea of the necessary skills and know-how. The energy company can offer several levels of support for the operation and maintenance of the installations located at the customer’s premises: the maintenance contract for the gas boiler is the prehistoric version of this axis.
- The service: often limited to the customer relationship, its information and simple activities such as billing, the service can, in the context described above, take more complex forms: advising or guiding the customer in his choices has a very strong value. The energy expert has an expertise to share with his customers, often ignorant of the things of energy: still it is necessary to learn to share it without direct commercial intention! The commercial benefits must come from the trust and loyalty established and not directly from the advice provided.
- The verticalization of activities: the energy company, yesterday seller of fluids, can today be supplier of equipment, installer, maintenance and operating agent, advisor, designer etc … each level of integration having of course its advantages and its disadvantages.
Many energy companies are already trying to provide energy intelligence. They stammer but the consistency of their offer is growing day by day. The alternative “low cost energy company” remains, under certain conditions, credible but the development of energy intelligence is the key to future differentiation. In this field, many energy suppliers remain very shy or absent.
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