New research shows consumers are becoming more interested in their electricity usage and looking to their energy provider for ways to reduce their demand, get greener and save money.

That’s good news for electric cooperatives that are nimble enough to respond to the changing wants and needs of their consumer-members.

“Consumers now have different expectations of a customer experience and relationship with their utility,” said Nathan Shannon, deputy director at the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative, which recently released its State of the Consumer 2020 report. “They see a utility as a service provider, less a commodity.”

Other key takeaways from the report include:

  • Knowing how best to communicate with consumers remains essential.
  • Consumer education is a strategic opportunity for engagement.
  • Energy engagement with consumers is a “journey.”

If a consumer participates in one utility program or service, they are most likely to participate in the next, said Shannon.

“Once they start the journey, they will continue. If the journey is not started, they are harder to reach.”

The report synthesized comprehensive survey results from 2,000 electricity consumers in the U.S. and Canada on two priority issues—distributed energy resources and rate design.

It showed that 69% look to their utility as the first source of information or advice on DER, such as rooftop solar or electric vehicles. “They wanted the utility to be a one-stop shop,” said Shannon.

On rate plans, the research showed that about half of those surveyed did not know the rate design of their electricity bill.

“Consumers were more interested in the alternative rate designs if they understood them,” said Shannon. “Once they gained an understanding, the more choices you gave them, the more interested they were.”

Shannon said the changing energy landscape gives utilities an opportunity to engage with consumers and build trust.

“Consumers are looking to their utility for education,” he said. “If the utility is the first place consumers go to find information, leverage that relationship.”