Energy: It’s the lifeblood of our society, and critical to sustaining life as we know it. Like most other industries, the power generation industry is undergoing a seismic shift. Utilities around the world are coming face-to-face with remarkable challenges (as well as opportunities) that include adapting to a variety of new digital trends and technology advancements, while also meeting regulatory requirements. Some of these developments include availability of intermittent renewables, behind the meter (BTM) storage (forecast to represent 50 percent of the U.S. market by 2021), reduction in the cost of solar -- and not least, changes in customer expectations.

Rise of the prosumer

When it comes to the future of energy, customers are taking center stage. Demand for simplified and engaging anytime, anywhere, and any channel (mobile, web, IoT) experiences continues to rise. This is in large part due to the fact that expectations around digital product and service experience have already been set in other industries such as retail and banking.

Energy consumers have the unique ability to become “prosumers” or active participants in both consuming electricity, producing it (through solar panels via a handful of companies like SolarCity and Sunrun), or provisioning (selling) it back to the grid. Customized digital experiences based on utilization preferences becomes critical in this scenario by enabling control, choice, and self-service to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.

“Personalizing the customer experience is a key value driver when consumers are considering buying and engaging in new products and services from their energy providers.” (Accenture Research)

The mind-bending innovation shaping the energy industry

But innovation isn’t only happening on the consumer side of energy. Today, diversification of energy source, advanced data analytics, AI, and automation are remaking the energy industry. If you think the industry is lagging on the technology innovation front, then you likely haven’t heard of some of the leading-edge start-ups that are fueling innovation in this sector. Companies like Airspace, the world’s first drone security system, or SparkCognition that use AI to predict failures before they happen, or Arch Systems, who design and deploy industrial IoT solutions.

Our team had the opportunity to meet with a handful of these exciting new companies at a recent roundtable discussion on growth and talent led by CLT Joules, a Charlotte based non-profit accelerator for energy startups. These startups are not only shaking up the industry, they’re presenting exciting future-oriented technology possibilities to power utilities.

The next-generation utility

Duke Energy, headquartered here in Charlotte, is one of the largest power companies in the U.S. serving roughly 24 million people. They’re a great example of a utility making significant strides with technology through a long-term strategy to deliver cleaner, smarter energy solutions that deliver value to clients. They have a dedicated emerging technology organization (ETO) whose goals are to inform strategy on emerging energy tech trends (e.g. micro-grids, energy storage, wind turbines etc.), harness internal innovation, and identify technology driven risks and growth opportunities. Watch the ETO team’s recent Tech Talk to learn more about the exciting future of energy at Duke.