Utilities Losing Millennials

Major shift in usage percentages…what are possible solutions?

Recent data recorded by Accenture Consulting indicates a major issue closing in on utilities providers: how will they keep the Millennial generation as part of their customer base? The demographic is disproportionately out of touch with utilities, in part because many of them are still living at home, and also because more are receptive to green sources of energy. Then there’s the “spoiled techy world” aspect of it—these young adults have expectations of a seamless experience—meaning if and when they do pay their electric or gas bills through a utility, they’d like it to be accessible and option-filled at all times.

With a whole spectrum of alternative energy options available to them, Accenture’s survey found that over 50% of the generational group said they’d be likely to sign up for solar panels in the next five years. Baby boomers, in comparison, only yielded an 18% ‘yes’ rate to the same question. Also, more than half of millennials expressed interest in smart home technology and would be willing to pay for it, per the Accenture data. Lastly, and perhaps most indicative of the online-linked culture that reigns over the generation, almost 80% of those surveyed ages 18-34 expressed preference at having social media capabilities to access their energy provider’s website and subsequently their account.

As Katherine Tweed of Greentech Media describes in a recent report on the subject, all of these statistics are rooted in a cultural shift:

“Younger consumers are already leading a shift toward LEDs at the expense of CFLs, according to a new survey from Sylvania, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Accenture found that 87 percent of millennials globally are likely to consider distributed energy resource products and services after receiving information about them.”

So millennials aren’t just considering renewable and alternative energy sources because they’re more visible to them; these people actually feel a motivation to help change the culture. Most of this can be easily traced to the heightened awareness of climate change, which for most millennials reached its height of visibility during and after the 2000 election. Like it or not, supporting evidence for climate change has only increased with each year, with harrowing numbers updated as recently as this week.

How can utilities adapt? The foundation of a solution lies in implementing new technologies that can appeal to this generation by meeting certain preferences—apps that allow direct payment from smartphones, offering integrated renewable energy contributions individually as part of their utility consumption. “The eagerness to embrace technology and clean energy gives utilities an opportunity to sell new services to a massive consumer group, whether that’s a product sold through utility online marketplaces or community solar,” writes Tweed.

But their history does not bode well, and ignoring the generation due to its tendency to live at home into a later age may have left utilities aplenty in the lurch. As Tweed contends, utilities “may only have one chance to get it right with many millennials,” due to the expectations many millennials have for a “seamless experience” when switching to these new products through a utility, or signing up for them in general. This notion comes from everything being so accessible and so quickly provided. The demographic in question is an at-your-fingertips collection of people. More than 80 percent would be hesitant to sign up for additional products and services if their energy provider could not provide a seamless experience. More importantly, 95 percent of millennials said they’d switch energy providers altogether if their energy provider couldn’t provide a seamless experience.

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