Seven questions on innovative utility companies and the Energy Transition Award for Martin Ammon of EuPD Research.
Mr. Ammon, the Energy Transition Award recognizes utility companies that have taken on a pioneering role in the energy transition. What makes a utility company a pioneer?
As our list of winners makes clear, it has nothing to do with size. Honorees have included both small regional public utilities and national or international energy groups. To serve as a role model, utilities need a good understanding of the market so that they can recognize and evaluate current conditions and predict future developments. Electrification provides an excellent example. As this trend moves inexorably forward, it is impinging on some traditional business areas while at the same time opening up new opportunities for sustainable growth. But to be a pioneer, it is not enough for a company to simply adapt its products and services – the whole company must live and breathe the energy transition and incorporate it into its structure and vision. The entire company must adapt to the changing demands of the energy transition and all employees must be included in this process.
Are utility companies primarily taking action in the electricity or the heating segment?
If we look at numbers alone, there is a greater range of available options for electricity supply than for heating. But as the energy transition proceeds, the boundaries between these sectors are becoming increasingly blurred, with electricity being used in connection with heat pumps or power-to-heat applications to provide energy in the heating sector.
Which trends have you observed?
This year’s survey showed that previous trends have continued unabated. Nearly a quarter of German utility companies now offer photovoltaic and storage solutions, for both private households and commercial customers. Utilities have been offering contracting services for heating for quite some time, but now we also see this trend taking hold in the electricity segment and in solutions for e-mobility. Overall, utility companies are expanding their range of e-mobility services. In a recent study, we identified nearly 300 providers offering special rates for customers to charge their electric vehicles on the go, with the majority of these rates offered by traditional utility companies.
Are utility companies prepared for a future energy supply based on renewable sources?
While our annual survey of all utility companies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland clearly shows that utilities are taking basic steps in the right direction, very few suppliers live and breathe the energy transition in every aspect of their company. The Energy Transition Award serves as a platform for precisely these pioneering companies, so that they can show other companies the opportunities opened up by the new energy world.
How do customers rate their utility company’s commitment to the energy transition?
It’s a mixed bag. The top utility companies receive high marks from customers. But across the industry as a whole, there is plenty of room to improve. Again and again, our work shows that customers would like utilities to do more, especially when it comes to providing information and education.
How do you evaluate companies for the Energy Transition Award?
Our primary tool is a quality model that was developed five years ago and is updated continuously. It defines how the ideal utility company meets its customers’ needs for products, services and information as part of the energy transition. Our assessment is based on around 50 criteria in the four sectors of electricity, heat, mobility and energy efficiency. We use a comprehensive mystery shopping approach to simulate customer requirements for website searches and email and telephone inquiries for the more than 1,800 utility companies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Based on this process, we have compiled a database that allows us to take a purely data-driven approach to evaluating companies and identifying the trailblazers of the energy transition.
The Energy Transition Award will be presented in a digital ceremony on October 22. What can participants expect?
In lieu of an official award ceremony at the innovation hub The smarter E Europe in Munich, we are holding a best practice day for public utilities on October 22, 2020. The digital event consists of three separate sessions. In addition to specialist presentations by EuPD Research and our corporate partner the Vaillant Group as well as the presentation of solutions from selected winners of the Energy Transition Award, we look forward to welcoming three keynote speakers: Prof. Dr. Claudia Kemfert of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), Dr. Simone Peter of the German Renewable Energy Federation and Katja Diehl of She Drives Mobility. The motto of this year’s event is “Learning from the best.”