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A trail of trials

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Open any newspaper or watch any news channel and you’ll find examples of new innovations, trials and breakthroughs.

Rightly, we are excited to read medical research stories and their potential to cure illness, fight disease and improve our wellbeing.  Science is also a reliable source of innovation, with new discoveries daring us to think big.

Today, nearly every industry, including the energy sector, is involved in cutting edge, real time, data rich developments, deployments and adoptions of new technology.

However, live testing means anything that goes wrong will be seen by detractors, customers and media, potentially jeopardising not just the trial, but the corporate brand. 

So how do organisations, including Jemena, test our theories in the ‘real world’ while building community and reputational trust.

Trial in the court of Public Opinion 

Our recent residential demand response trial, Power Changers, could have been perceived as a ‘risk’ as it directly engaged with households across the Jemena Electricity Network, in north Melbourne.

The trial, in partnership with the Victorian Government, utilised smart meter information and a new app to encouraged participants to reduce energy consumption on very hot days at peak times, in order to save money off their bill and reduce pressure on the grid.

Given some of the sentiment towards the energy industry, clearly communicating the wider benefits of the trial to our customers was going to be crucial.

To overcome this, we engaged with customers and offered communication through a variety of traditional and online channels. This ensured participants had access to information on their terms, not ours.

In these communications, we were upfront about why the trial was important and why/how it could potentially benefit our customers and the broader community. For as much as saving money off household bills was a trial driver, so too was trying to reduce pressure on the network – which as we explained was good for the whole community. By linking our trial to a broader community benefit we were able to generate much-needed community buy-in, while also lessening any potential fallout in the event the trial did not go as planned.

Trial Learning: Be upfront with trial participants and communicate with them on their terms and not yours.

Trials and tribulations

The benefit of live trialling is instant feedback. There is no place for glitches to hide when they are played out in public. Power Changers participants turned to social media to point out teething issues, but instead of viewing these negatively, we viewed them as an opportunity to further engage with our customers (while resolving the issue at hand).

The key here was having a plan in place that allowed us to respond proactively and genuinely. These guiding principles underpinned all we did, and through this process we were able to strengthen our relationships with our customers.  

Proactive promotion was also enhanced by positive employee engagement ensuring staff were able to act as trial ambassadors outside the office and at social gatherings.

Trial Learning: Fully engage employees so they are comfortable promoting the trial (and your brand) to friends and family.

Trial and error

Trust is also won by admitting to errors when they happen.

Fortunately, with this trial, there were no significant system errors, however we did learn a lot about how human behaviour, and mother nature, can impact a trial.

For example, initially, the trial focused on very hot days between Monday and Friday, when trial participants were sent energy saving tips to pre-cool homes. However, when forecasts indicated the hottest times of the week were a Saturday or Sunday, it forced a rethink.

It may sound a simple oversight, but had we not adapted, the trial would have failed the community by not providing useful information when needed most, and our data sample would have been severely compromised.

Trial Learning: Be prepared to reassess the strategy to address unplanned situations.

Of course, a successful trial does not guarantee a successful deployment. Trials are only just the beginning and there is a lot of additional R&D required before any consideration of going ‘live’.    

Early indications are that Jemena’s trials are achieving their goals and, our modelling indicates that when fully implemented, they will cut bills, provide better services and enhance future energy networks. 

We look forward to continuing to explore new technologies, initiatives and partnerships to the benefit of the network, but more importantly, we will continue to work to deliver benefits to our customers and if at first we don’t succeed, we’ll trial, trial and trial again.

Shaun Reardon
Executive General Manager, Customer and Markets