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Shifting the Balance of Power

Whether you’re a fan or not, there’s no denying the impact of Uber on the transport industry globally. Though the idea of connecting drivers with passengers who are going in the same direction as they are may be simple, it’s this simplicity that is at the heart of Uber’s success.

There’s much that other industries – including my own, the energy industry – can learn from the Uber experience, and I believe new approaches to energy management – such as Demand Response Management (programs increasingly being offered to customers to encourage them to trim their demand on the grid at peak times) – would do well to heed the lessons gained from Uber.

Changing how people think about the electricity grid

Just as the arrival of Uber has reinvented the way people move about, Demand Response Management has the potential to transform the energy sector.

Like the transport sector that was so disrupted by Uber, Australia’s energy sector is long established and plays an essential role in the liveability of our cities and communities. And while the energy sector has always been highly technical and innovative, today’s rapid rate of innovation, heightened focus on customer engagement, and the keener acceptance of new technologies suggest the time is ripe for change.

Just like Uber has done with transport, the changes that are being proposed by Demand Response Management will require energy consumers to change how they think about electricity. Our challenge as an industry is to support this change so that consumers start to view the electricity grid as a community commodity to be cared for in the same way as other community assets. This may prove difficult, but as we’ve seen with the Uber experience it can be facilitated through smart thinking and technology which supports new ways of working and living.

Engagement through technology

Technology is central to the Uber experience and we are also increasingly turning to new technology for breakthroughs and advances in the energy sector. But how do we use technology to engage our customers? Because technology is changing so fast, it is hard to predict exactly how this question will be answered, but pilots such as Jemena’s Demand Response Management pilot enable us to develop and deploy new technologies, test them out and receive feedback directly from energy customers.

For Jemena’s trial, which was kicked off in early December in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, we’re using smart-meter data to underpin a new app which enables participants to monitor their household energy consumption during a peak event on the go. The trial also provides participants with opportunities to learn more about their energy consumption with weekly email insights and peak time energy reduction tips.   

Utilising smart-meter data and sharing it with homeowners in this way is a significant step forward and may set a precedent for how the energy industry can use technology and existing data to better engage with and serve our customers in the future.

Incentivisation

While making better use of technology and existing data may support customers to adopt new practices such as Demand Response Management, again the Uber experience tells us that to really engage with our customers we need to do more.

Part of the Uber experience, and much of its success, relies on gamification – where game designs and applications are applied to something that already exists. In the travel ‘game’, both travellers and drivers alike “rate” their travel experience, with those of us fortunate to have a five star rating wearing this as a badge of pride.  

The gamification of energy is something our industry is just starting to consider, but its promise as an engagement tool is exciting!

For Jemena’s Demand Response Management pilot we are using our app to set real-world challenges for energy users. Energy users who choose to take up a challenge are then rewarded positively, with financial and community rewards on offer.

The energy sector is certainly undergoing immense change and it’s important to find new and better ways to be efficient, technologically advanced, collectors and analysers of real-time data, forward thinkers who listen to our customers. The experience of other “disruptors” like Uber can serve as inspiration for our own industry as it navigates these changes.  For just like Uber, this is just as much about the journey as the destination. 

Shaun Reardon
Executive General Manager, Customer and Markets