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Future energy systems – a customer-centric approach to new market designs and why it matters

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By Lamé Verre

· 5 min read

The landscape of energy systems is undergoing a profound transformation. As we confront the challenges of climate change and strive for a sustainable future, our energy infrastructure needs to evolve to become more decentralised, flexible, and customer-centric.

In this blog, I explore the concept of customer-centric energy systems and how new market designs are shaping the future of energy consumption and production.

The energy world is undergoing a seismic shift, and consumers are at the heart of this transformation. As we navigate the complexities of the 21st century, it is essential to understand the evolving consumer experience in the energy sector.

Traditionally, energy systems have been characterised by centralised generation and one-way distribution to end-users. Often fuelled by fossil fuels, power plants supplied electricity to homes and businesses through a grid that delivered electricity in a unidirectional flow. Customers had little control over their energy sources or consumption patterns.

However, this one-size-fits-all approach is no longer sustainable or desirable. The future of energy systems is evolving towards a customer-centric approach that places individuals, communities, and businesses at the centre of the energy equation. New market designs, technological advancements, and a growing awareness of environmental challenges are driving this transformation. The current Energy system, designed at the turn of the century, treats customers as recipients rather than participants.

The vision, therefore, is a future where customers are not just passive consumers but active participants in shaping the energy landscape for the better. As nations embrace these changes and move closer to a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive energy future, shifting to a Demand-Focused System and a new tariff structure is imperative.

What does the new market designs for a customer-centric approach look like?

1. Time-of-use pricing: The rate structure where electricity costs vary throughout the day, typically in predefined time blocks. The model encourages customers to shift their energy consumption to off-peak hours when electricity is cheaper. This saves money and helps utilities manage peak demand more effectively.

2. Type-of-use pricing: Rate or Tariff Class that categorises customers based on their usage patterns, such as residential, commercial, industrial, or agricultural. Each customer type is assigned a specific pricing structure tailored to their typical energy consumption patterns and requirements.

3. Peer-to-Peer energy trading: Blockchain technology enables peer-to-peer energy trading, where prosumers can sell excess energy directly to their neighbours. This fosters local energy markets and reduces transmission losses.

4. Energy communities: Energy communities, often facilitated by microgrids, allow neighbours and businesses to share energy resources and support each other during grid outages or extreme weather events.

5. Energy as a Service (EaaS): EaaS models provide customers with energy services rather than selling electricity as a commodity. Customers pay for outcomes such as lighting, heating, or cooling rather than the kilowatt-hours consumed.

Future energy customer archetypes

Future energy customer Archetypes are distinct groups of consumers with unique needs, preferences, and behaviours. We can foster greater engagement, efficiency, and sustainability in our energy landscape by tailoring energy solutions to these archetypes.

Whilst there are many different types of energy consumers, we will focus on three main categories for this blog.

1. Energy-vulnerable individuals: This group faces challenges meeting basic energy needs. Future systems must include initiatives to provide affordable and efficient energy solutions to low-income households, ensuring equitable access to modern energy services.

2. Energy prosumers: These customers both consume and generate electricity. They may return excess energy to the grid or participate in peer-to-peer energy trading networks. Prosumers often have a diversified energy portfolio, combining renewables with traditional sources.

3. Smart home enthusiasts: These customers are high-energy users and embrace smart home technologies and devices to optimise energy use and reduce costs. They use IoT (Internet of Things) devices, such as smart thermostats, lighting systems, and appliances, to manage energy consumption efficiently. They may participate in demand response programs to save money and contribute to grid stability.

Benefits of a customer-centric approach (demand-focused system)

1. Empowered consumers: Customer-centric energy systems enable individuals and communities to take an active role in their energy choices, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility.

2. Efficiency: A demand-focused system optimises energy usage, reducing waste and improving overall efficiency. By prioritising demand-side actions and assets, the system can be designed to meet the specific needs of consumers, resulting in a more efficient allocation of resources.

3. Cost reduction: Shifting to a demand-focused system will reduce costs for both consumers and the energy system. By incentivising consumers to reduce their consumption and access decarbonisation assets, the overall demand on the energy system can be reduced, resulting in lower costs for infrastructure and operations.

4. Decentralisation: A demand-focused system promotes decentralisation by actively empowering consumers to participate in the energy market. Consumers can become prosumers, generating energy and contributing to the overall supply. This decentralisation leads to a more resilient and flexible energy system.

5. Renewable integration: With the increasing penetration of renewable energy sources, a demand-focused system becomes crucial for effectively integrating these intermittent sources into the grid. By incentivising demand-side actions, such as demand response and energy storage, the system can better manage the fluctuations in renewable energy generation.

6. Reduced environmental impact: A greater reliance on renewable energy sources and energy-efficient technologies can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the environment.

7. Grid resilience: Decentralised energy systems are more resilient to disruptions and less susceptible to centralised failures. This improves grid reliability during extreme weather events or cyberattacks.

This article is also published on the author's blog. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Lamé Verre is a Fellow of the Energy Institute and the Co-founder and Chair of the Advisory Board | Lean in Equity & Sustainability. She also sits on the Global Future Council - The Future of the Energy Transition at the World Economic Forum

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