North American Power: The power of exceptional
“North American Power is a unique opportunity for anyone that has the privilege to work here.”
Coming from an executive with over 40 years of industry experience, that statement from North American Power’s CEO, Deryl Brown, is really saying something about the company that has grown from a small handful of passionate people working in a 700 square foot sublet in 2009 to a top leader in supplying electricity and natural gas within deregulated markets today.
Why is North American Power so unique? In a recent interview, Brown, CIO Jim Crysdale, and CMO Greg Breitbart discussed North American Power’s success, detailing the company’s brand value proposition, emphasis on technology, and commitment to achieving “exceptional.”
Making energy easier goes a long way
As one of the nation’s fastest-growing energy suppliers, North American Power tackles a variety of obstacles and challenges that face the retail energy industry—one of which is the perception that the average consumer has a short attention span when it comes to the energy they use.
Greg Breitbart, North American Power’s CMO, argues that it’s not that consumers don’t care about their energy use, but rather they are frustrated by how hard it is to understand why their energy costs what it does, and what they can do to use less.
“There’s a common assumption made in our industry that people don’t care about energy that much and they only spend a few minutes every year thinking about it,” he continued. “We challenge that notion. Every time you make a decision to turn off a light as you’re walking out the door or raise or lower your thermostat, you are subconsciously thinking about your energy consumption.”
With this in mind, North American Power is introducing a monthly energy report that will provide its customers with insights into how their home is using energy—including a percentage breakdown of their usage (e.g. 25% used for air conditioning, 10% used for lighting, etc.), and personalized steps they can take to reduce their energy costs. This report, which is a type of service that no other supplier outside of Texas currently offers, uses information provided during the enrollment process so that it can be tailored to the customer’s home and energy habits.
“At North American Power, we want our customers to feel okay — and maybe even good — about paying their bill, because they actually understand where, when and how their home used energy,” said Breitbart.
North American Power also dedicates an immense amount of effort to simplifying its customer experience. One way that the company is accomplishing this is through a complete redesign of their website and online enrollment process, which includes a reduction in the amount of text and pages a customer needs to read and click through to enroll. They are also focusing on an optimized mobile experience, as many customers visit napower.com via smartphone.
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“A big part of our online customer experience is ease-of-use, which to us means interacting with customers in a way that makes it easy for them to understand their choices,” said Breitbart.
North American Power also makes their phone-based customer experience a significant priority. Intelesure plays an integral part in this.
“We’ve had our call center partner that we’ve worked with since the very early days of our company, Intelesure, collaborate with us to dramatically improve our customer experience,” said Breitbart. “Our sales and customer care teams hold calibration calls several times a week with Intelesure’s coaches to listen to several different types of calls, evaluate what was done well, what could have been done differently, and provide direction accordingly. We’ll continue to strive for an exceptional customer experience on every single call.”
For North American Power, technology is key
Crysdale noted the importance of technology and how its presence is further fueling the success of the company. North American Power is designing, constructing and implementing an entirely new end-to-end platform. This innovation will have a single system of record for all of the company’s data, allowing for all customer types (residential, small and large commercial) to run on the same platform.
Constructed with a true services-oriented architecture in mind, the company will now be able to utilize independent layers to segment data and customers.
“Owning our technology from beginning to end will allow us to run an extremely efficient operations team,” said Crysdale. “We will also be eliminating the age-old issue of massive data persistence and reconciliation of data sets and reports,” he added.
“Now and going forward, there is a very strong emphasis on technology. Automation, single system of record, workflow, work queue management, et cetera, allow us to manage the business effectively on a daily basis at a much lower cost and with a higher level of accuracy. Technology allows us to shift from reactive to proactive,” Crysdale said.
He added, “We will soon have the technology and data to measure the most granular KPI. We will not only be able to measure effectiveness, but we will be able to proactively manage our business intelligently by analyzing our data and looking forward. We will have the capability to conduct ‘what if’ scenarios and understand how today’s decisions may impact tomorrow’s objectives.”
North American Power is also focused on purchasing energy at the best possible rate to further allow the company to offer customers competitive pricing. When it comes to its energy supply, Allegro Development and Adapt2 are two partners who have contributed to North American Power’s success. Allegro provides the company with the commodity management software used to manage the electricity and natural gas books of business on a daily basis, while Adapt2 helps North American Power absorb the enormous amounts of data provided by the Independent System Operators.
“We place a huge emphasis on using cutting-edge innovations and efficiencies,” Brown said. “Allegro and Adapt2 help set us apart from our competition and give us true advantage in the marketplace.”
It takes the best to be the best
With a goal to become America’s most admired retail energy company through exceptional growth, innovation and customer experiences, there is a lot of motivation to drive employee behavior towards achieving these objectives.
“It’s important to us that each employee understands how his or her individual contribution impacts the overall business,” Crysdale said.
“We work hard to promote a company culture that recognizes, attracts and rewards team members that make exceptional contributions,” said Brown. “It all begins with forming a team of dedicated, high-performance employees.”
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“In one word, we value the ‘exceptional,’” he continued. “We foster a work environment that promotes curiosity and the courage to take smart risks, because we know that it’s exceptional innovation that allows us to deliver a customer experience that is compelling and differentiated from the experiences offered by our competitors.”
Charging towards the future
As for the future of the energy industry, North American Power’s executive management predicts more innovative products for both residential and commercial clients. Further technical advancements and bundled product offerings are also on the horizon, allowing for easier integration across multiple providers of different services.
“Organizations in our industry will become much more adept at storing, managing and interpreting their data to make better and faster decisions,” said Crysdale.
Breibart added, “Retail electricity and natural gas markets are the future, and anyone who disputes that should go invest in New York City Taxi medallions. Consumers today and especially consumers of tomorrow are not going to settle for monopolistic business models like public utilities, cable or taxi companies. They demand excellent customer experience and innovation, which are two things that monopolies have absolutely no incentive to provide.”
“For me,” he continued, “it’s not a question of whether or not our industry is the future of energy — it’s a question of how long it will take regulators in states that have not yet deregulated to accept that.
“It’s really exciting to see what’s happening in the marketplace,” said Brown. “It’s a huge challenge for us to make sure we’re ahead of the pack, but it’s a challenge we embrace, and it’s what competition is all about.”
Ofwat allows retailers to raise prices from April
Retailers can recover a portion of excess bad debt by temporarily increasing prices from April 2022, according to an Ofwat statement.
The regulator confirmed its view that levels of bad debt costs across the business retail market are exceeding 2% of non-household revenue, thereby allowing "a temporary increase" in the maximum prices. Adjustments to price caps will apply for a minimum of two years to reduce the step changes in price that customers might experience.
Measures introduced since March 2020 to contain the spread of Covid-19 could lead to retailers facing higher levels of customer bad debt. Retailers’ abilities to respond to this are expected to be constrained by Ofwat strengthening protections for non-household customers during Covid-19 and the presence of price caps.
In April last year, Ofwat committed to provide additional regulatory protection if bad debt costs across the market exceeded 2% of non-household revenue.
Georgina Mills, Business Retail Market Director at Ofwat said: “These decisions aim to protect the interests of non-household customers in the short and longer term, including from the risk of systemic Retailer failure as the business retail market continues to feel the impacts of COVID-19. By implementing market-wide adjustments to price caps, we aim to minimise any additional costs for customers in the shorter term by promoting efficiency and supporting competition.”
There are also three areas where Ofwat has not reached definitive conclusions and is seeking further evidence and views from stakeholders:
- Pooling excess bad debt costs – Ofwat proposes that the recovery of excess bad debt costs is pooled across all non-household customers, via a uniform uplift to price caps.
- Keeping open the option of not pursuing a true up – For example if outturn bad debt costs are not materially higher than the 2% threshold.
- Undertaking the true up – If a 'true up' is required, Ofwat has set out how it expects this to work in practice.
Further consultation on the proposed adjustments to REC price caps can be expected by December.
"While it’s great that regulators are helping the industry deal with bad debt in the wake of the pandemic, raising prices only treats the symptoms. Instead, water companies should head upstream, using customer data to identify and rectify the causes of bad debt, stop it at source and help prevent it from occurring in the first place," she said.
"While recouping costs is a must, water companies shouldn’t just rely on the regulator. Data can help companies segment customers, identify and assist customers that are struggling financially, avoiding penalising the entire customer in tackling the cause of the issue."
United Utilities picks up pipeline award
A race-against-time plumbing job to connect four huge water pipes into the large Haweswater Aqueduct in Cumbria saw United Utilities awarded Utility Project of the Year by Pipeline Industries Guild.
The Hallbank project, near Kendal, was completed within a tight eight-day deadline, in a storm and during the second COVID lockdown last November – and with three hours to spare. Principal construction manager John Dawson said the project helped boost the resilience of water supplies across the North West.
“I think what made us stand out was the scale, the use of future technology and the fact that we were really just one team, working collaboratively for a common goal," he said.
Camus Energy secures $16m funding
Camus Energy, which provides advanced grid management technology, has secured $16 million in a Series A round, led by Park West Asset Management and joined by Congruent Ventures, Wave Capital and other investors, including an investor-owned utility. Camus will leverage the operating capital to expand its grid management software platform to meet growing demand from utilities across North America.
As local utilities look to save money and increase their use of clean energy by tapping into low-cost and low-carbon local resources, Camus' grid management platform provides connectivity between the utility's operations team, its grid-connected equipment and customer devices.