Utility 2.0 – how internet transfers public service from pull to push

What is your first impression when you hear the word utility (or for my fellow German readers “Stadtwerke“)? Let’s be honest, my first connotations would have been all sorts of things around reactive, traditional, and charging me my monthly electricity bill.

However, February 7 and 8 changed my mind about utilities! I attended eWorld in Essen, THE utility gathering event in Germany. Who did I meet? Dynamic and smart ladies and gents, who have realized that selling electricity, gas or thermal energy might be a good cash cow, but in order to keep their customers happy and differentiate from the BIG PLAYERS, they need to start socializing with us consumers. And to do so, which tool is more suitable than the internet?

Many of the utilities I met in Essen use the best way possible to communitize with its customers; but also the most courageous one: trial & error. I was presented tons of pilot and best practice projects, in which energy communities form and test scenarios in order to play around with the chances the internet technology brings. The good thing is: Nobody expects a German utility (yet) to provide the killer app for charging electric cars or operating a home & building automation system, as electromobility and smart meters are not yet fully rolled-out in Germany. At the moment, we, their customers, enjoy first class engagement – we have the opportunity to participate and shape the services that we want to buy from our utilities in the future. With many of the provided portals and apps, the utility 2.0’s reach extends from the socket to our basements managing our block heating stations, to our sofas, where we operate our lighting system on a tablet PC, or into our garages, where we charge our electric vehicles. Clever, isn’t it?

Two examples of projects that I was presented at eWorld:

Stadtwerke Lüdenscheid, Germany: a free iPhone app allows the visualization of a household’s electricity consumption, the comparison to similar households and transparency of your CO2 emission

illwerke, Bregenz, Austria: is looking for “smart home pioneers”, managing their gas and electricity demand online, and is currently building one of the biggest pilot regions for electric vehicles in Europe with a charging portal and app

In February 2012, the research team of KEYLENS Management Consultants in cooperation with the University of Bremen published a study on how successful German energy providers were on Facebook in 2011. Well, I would call the results “mixed business” for utilities. Ten utilities had around 500 fans each – and these were the top players in their group. On average, a utility post on Facebook generated a maximum of two comments. I assume that the way in getting closer through pilot projects is far more promising than the “Like” button.

To help spreading the word about the good things: Do you know any cool internet-based utility projects or services? Or do you have ideas on what should be added to a utility portfolio? Share them with us here in our blog.

 

About the author

Anita Bunk

Anita Bunk

I am leading the digital engagement & corporate communications team at Bosch Software Innovations and cover the Internet of Things (IoT). In the past, I was part of international technology and innovation marketing teams. What I enjoy most in my job is sharing with a greater audience the passion that engineers put in developing a high-tech product. My background is a master in communications and a diploma in political science.