Matthew Allen is the Senior Key Accounts & Business Analyst for ElectriCities of NC and acts as a guide for their municipal utilities. ElectriCities of NC provides administrative, technical, legal and legislative services to municipal electric utilities throughout North Carolina, as well as some in South Carolina and Virginia. Working with 32 member utilities, Allen helps their commercial and industrial (C&I) customers become more energy efficient and save on utility costs.

Headshot of Matthew Allen Senior Key Accounts and Business Analyst at Electricities of NC

Between performing energy audits, encouraging C&I customers to participate in load management programs and helping other member utilities establish or improve their Key Accounts programs, one could say Allen keeps busy.

Allen is a homegrown advocate of ElectriCities, starting his career as an intern during college. He was born and raised in Lexington, North Carolina, and graduated from the University of North Carolina. After college, he applied for a full-time role with ElectriCities and has been with the company ever since. Outside of work, Allen enjoys golf and spending time with family, including his Golden Retriever, Summit.

For Allen, focusing on customer service and the customer experience is always top-of-mind. “In general, a lot of utilities focus on keeping the lights on,” he says. “While this has been the main priority for years, improving the overall customer experience should be an important consideration as we move into the future. All customers have different needs. It’s important for us to listen and identify ways that we can provide value beyond simply keeping the lights on.”

Questline Digital connected with Allen to get his thoughts on changes in the industry, the evolution of energy and advice for those entering the utility space.

How did you get started in the energy utility industry?

I began working at ElectriCities as an intern my sophomore year at UNC Charlotte. My role was year-round and I averaged working about 20 hours per week while in school full-time studying industrial engineering. Once I graduated, a position opened that I was interested in, so I applied. I have been in my current role for almost four years.

What has changed the most about your job working in the utility industry over the course of your career?

In my role, I work closely with our business customers advising them on energy efficiency opportunities. Over the past seven years, I would say newer technologies are allowing customers to reduce electric costs and become more energy efficient more easily than before. And the price of some of these technologies is continuing to decline. LED lighting is a good example of this. I also think the utility industry is beginning to focus more on customer service and the overall customer experience due to more competition. It is fun being a part of this transition.

What excites you the most about the energy utility space?

Electricity is something that impacts everyone. Most everyone uses electricity daily. I enjoy helping folks gain a better understanding of how they use energy and ways they can become more efficient and reduce electric costs. The entire process from energy generation to getting it to the end use customer intrigues me, so it is fun learning more and more about the industry beyond my specific role.

Tell me about the campaign or initiative you’re most proud of.

Over the previous year, we have begun working on some short videos that our members can share with their customers. These videos are targeted toward a variety of different business customers to help them better understand different aspects of electricity usage and utility billing. One of these was a five-minute video that explains energy consumption and peak demand for billing. While we have currently only produced three videos, we have plans for more in the queue.

What’s a marketing campaign you wish you’d thought of, inside or outside the energy industry?

This is not something that I have put a ton of thought into, but I’d say any campaign that can simply explain complex issues and topics to help customers better understand aspects of the industry, such as why utilities charge for peak demand and why conserving energy during peak periods is important. In addition to financial incentives, if customers better understand why certain programs are offered, they can participate more effectively.

What is the hardest part of working in the energy industry today?

I’d say competition is one challenge everyone in the energy industry faces. Municipal utilities, co-ops and investor-owned utilities all have different business models, although they all provide the same product, which is electricity to retail customers. So, it is important to highlight your strengths while also addressing your weaknesses and working to improve those.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t working with energy key accounts, I would be…

That is a good question. I can’t really see myself working in a different industry. If I wasn’t in a key accounts role, I think I would enjoy working in the operations department or possibly project management.

What is your favorite eNewsletter?

Questline Digital has produced a lot of good content. In general, videos and articles with seasonal checklists tend to be my favorite. It’s easy to forget about everything you need to do to your HVAC system to prepare it for the cooling season during early spring when it has been months since it was regularly used. Seasonal checklists such as this also help me out by providing timely reminders when performing energy audits at different times throughout the year.

How do you anticipate the world of energy evolving in the coming years?

Over the coming years, I believe we are going to continue seeing more and more distributed generation from things like batteries, solar and other small generators as businesses continue to adopt green initiatives. From the utility perspective, it will be a challenge to determine how to best provide reliable power while also meeting the needs of customers. I look forward to helping solve the complex challenges.

What advice would you give to those entering the utility space?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t feel like you have to be an expert on everything. If a customer asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, tell them you will find out and follow up with them.

Participation in Questline Digital’s Energy Spotlight series does not indicate an endorsement from utility partners.

Smart devices continue to make their way into more homes each year. According to research, nearly 65% of Americans own at least one smart home device, with some of the most popular devices being speakers (31%), smart thermostats (24%) and lighting (20%). How are customers actually using these devices? We asked four members of the Questline Digital family to share their review of smart thermostats to help us understand how this technology makes their homes more comfortable.

What are smart thermostats?

Between smartphone apps and energy efficiency smart settings, controlling your home’s temperature has never been easier. Smart thermostats are Wi-Fi-enabled smart home devices that automatically adjusts the temperature inside customers’ homes for optimal performance. Customers can also use app-enabled functionality to manually turn the temperature in their homes up or down, even when they aren’t there.

What smart thermostat options are available?

The very first smart thermostat was introduced in 2007 by Ecobee. Lots of worthy competitors have since entered the smart home market, including Google Nest, Honeywell Lyric and Hive.

As consumers continue to adopt smart home technology, it’s imperative for your energy utility to stay ahead of the trends. When it comes to smart thermostats, it’s important to understand what your customers are looking for and what influences their buying decisions.

To better understand the benefits and buying considerations for smart thermostat customers, Questline Digital interviewed the following team members:

  • Joe Pifher, Creative Director (JP)
  • Reed Fabek, Operations Director (RF)
  • Jayne Culbertson, Client Success Manager (JC)
  • Suzanne Davis, HR Director, and her husband Eric (SD and ED)

What smart thermostat do you own?

JP: A Google Nest.

RF: I owned a Hive at our old house and currently have a Google Nest.

JC: I have a Google Nest.

ED: We own an Ecobee.

When did you decide you wanted to purchase a smart thermostat?

JP: The second they became available. As soon as I heard about a Nest being created by an ex-Apple employee, I knew I wanted it. The Nest was the only one I knew to be available at the time I purchased my smart thermostat.

RF: Three years ago at Christmas.

JC: As soon as we bought our house in 2018 or 2019.

ED: In November 2020, the AEP Ohio It’s Your Power program ended. The Powerley thermostat that we had received as part of the program could no longer communicate to the energy bridge and give us smart meter data. In advance of the program ending, I started researching a replacement for our thermostat.

Why did you want to purchase a smart thermostat? What stood out to you? Where did you buy it from?

JP: I liked the fact that I could control it from my phone and if we were traveling I could turn it down or turn it back up. And it looked neat. It was the next cool techy thing, and I like being on the forefront. I bought mine directly from Nest — Nest wasn’t owned by Google at the time so I ordered it straight from the website with a preorder.

RF: Hive was offering a deep discount. I had general awareness of the competitive products and features. Cost savings and improved sustainability were my two driving interests. I really believe in green philosophies and I like ways in which technology can help me be more cost-effective with the things that we buy. Green is a big initiative so I really wanted to get a smart thermostat.

I bought one coincidentally because Amazon was offering this huge discount on the Hive thermostat. I already had exposure to the landscape of what products existed thanks to one of my former roles helping create a smart thermostat campaign for an energy utility. I knew they were out there.

Hive was top of my list, Ecobee and Google Nest were tops for the functionality and aesthetic, but I couldn’t pass up the price. We moved last August into our new house and the second day we were here I went out and bought a Nest because I was at Costco and it was there. I bought it and didn’t even think twice about it. I knew I wanted a Nest — I’m tied in with Google and Android and Amazon and all of those things intersect with the Nest thermostat.

JC: We already had Google Home products and we liked the idea of sitting in bed being able to change the temperature. Or, being away from home we liked that we could automatically update the temperature and settings without being there. We bought ours from Columbia Gas.

ED: I really liked the ability to remotely control the previous thermostat through the mobile app. I wanted to replace that functionality in a new smart thermostat. I was also hoping for energy usage reports. Because the new thermostat does not communicate with the smart meter, I cannot get the level of detail I previously had. I also wanted something that would either learn our behavior or sense whether we were there — and make adjustments accordingly. Our previous Powerley thermostat was not smart in that regard. We bought it from the Columbia Gas online marketplace.

Did you ever consider purchasing from your energy utility or seeing if they offered any rebates or incentives on a smart thermostat?

JP: Smart thermostats were brand new when I bought mine so there was no relationship like that yet with energy utilities.

RF: No, sadly. I know some utilities will subsidize a portion of the cost, but both were impulse buys, so I didn’t check my utility provider.

JC: We bought it directly from Columbia Gas because my husband worked there at that time and we were able to get a discount or rebate on it by purchasing it through the utility.

ED: Yes, I went with Columbia Gas over the AEP Ohio marketplace solely based on cost. The instant rebates were much better on Columbia Gas’s site; AEP’s discounts had previously expired. These were $250 thermostats for $125, so I bought 2 of them in December during a holiday promotion.

Did you research different smart thermostats before purchasing what you have?

JP: No, I was just intrigued by how it said it would learn your patterns by motion sensor to know if you’re home or not.

RF: I managed the Smart Thermostat EM campaign for a previous client, so I had a decent amount of background knowledge from my work on the program.

JC: No, we already had a Google-functioning home so that’s what we went with.

ED: Yes, I was also looking at the Nest Learning Thermostat, along with the Ecobee Smart Thermostat with voice control. I also looked at Emerson and Honeywell. I was hoping for a definitive recommendation from the articles I read. But some rated Nest the best, and others Ecobee. And some of the other brands also had some good reviews. Although most seemed to recommend Nest or Ecobee. 

I also reached out to one of my co-workers and he was leaning toward the Ecobee for its reporting features and ease of use. I also asked other co-workers and they steered me away from Google products due to privacy concerns they had around Google. Although not as sleek as the Nest, the user interface is still very easy to use and the unit has better design appeal than some of the other brands.

Is there anything you wish you knew before purchasing it?

JP: No, I pretty much knew what was going to work or not work. Post-purchase, though, I think I would have maybe waited and gone with the Ecobee instead. The Ecobee has sensors you can put in rooms so you can set it for certain times to adjust for where you are in the house.

RF: I wonder if it would have been more cost effective to go through my energy utility. I also would have liked to know more about the reporting and tracking features and what the benefits or investments are for purchasing a smart thermostat in terms of cost savings.

JC: Not necessarily about the product but knowing more about the monthly emails and what those track would have been nice. Now I know that it compares how much energy I save and I can collect leaves, or points, that basically compares my energy usage to others in my area and across the nation. It creates a sense of competition and it would have been nice to know those things earlier on.

ED: This was hard to get an answer to, but will there be future connectivity to my energy bridge, so that I can get real-time and historical energy usage from the Ecobee app. My co-worker seemed to indicate that devices like Nest and Ecobee would be compatible in the future, should AEP Ohio be successful in re-launching the program. I should have explored the energy savings reporting in more detail to see what I’d be getting with the Ecobee.

Did working in the energy utility industry influence your purchasing decision?

JP: At the time of purchase, I didn’t work in the energy utility industry. Now, however, it absolutely would have impacted my decision. Knowing that they give discounts and rebates I definitely would have gone through my energy company.

RF: I do feel that I know more information about the utility space from my professional involvement versus any information that’s been provided to me as a consumer.

JC: I didn’t work in the industry when we purchased our smart thermostat, but my husband did. However, I don’t think it really impacted our decision. Other than the fact that we could get it through the gas company for a discount, we were already sold on it.

ED: Completely.

What are your favorite features of the smart thermostat?

JP: That I can change it from my phone while laying in bed.

RF: The aesthetic and interface of the Nest is phenomenal. Hive wasn’t bad, but it did require a hub appliance to connect to my home network. The ease of use was comparable between the two, but the interface on the Nest is very intuitive, and has a richer feature set for customizing my home automation. Installation for both was fairly straightforward — I did both myself.

JC: That I can lay in bed and change the temperature. I also like that you can set when you’re away so when I’m not there it will drop the temperature. Honestly, just using the thermostat too is fun — changing the dial is even a nice experience.

ED: I enjoy being able to control the temperature through the mobile app, but also to walk up to it and simply use a slider-type user interface to adjust the temperature up or down. The set-up and scheduling is intuitive. It’s also nice to see the outside temperature and indoor humidity at a glance. The mobile app sends me alerts when I need to take action. For example, it reminded me that it was time to change the furnace filter. When I turned off the humidifier, it alerted me of abnormally low humidity. These alerts also appear on the thermostats themselves. We have two sensors with each thermostat, which detect room occupancy. The thermostats will go into Eco mode when they sense we’re not there, which will save energy. The thermostat has also made recommendations on changing our temperature settings based on its detection of patterns of room occupancy, to save energy and money. This is a great feature. 

I have not explored the reporting as in depth as I thought I would, because I know it won’t give me the robustness that I was accustomed to with It’s Your Power, and also because I’m enjoying how things are working so far and am still uncovering features a few months into ownership. We do also receive AEP Ohio weekly home energy reports, which summarize my kWh usage and cost, so my need for reporting is satisfied elsewhere. We have not used the voice control in the upstairs thermostat; I mainly bought it because it was a great price and came with two sensors. Going with the cheaper model but adding in sensors would have been just as costly. 

The integrated Alexa has been a novelty. Because we have two thermostats (one upstairs and one on the main level), Alexa gets confused if we ask the downstairs one to change the temperature. We need to be specific with how we speak the name of the thermostat when talking to Alexa.

How do you typically use your smart thermostat?

JP: I let it do its thing most of the time. And then if I think it’s too hot or cool I change it from my phone. It has an option to learn its own pattern, but I ended up setting the pattern myself because of how the installation in my house would affect the timing of the automatic pattern. I like seeing the monthly emails come in, too, when I realize I use more energy than my neighbors. It makes me want to figure out why my energy usage is higher.

RF: I really use it for the basic temperature control. I’d like to look at it on a deeper level to see what else I could do with it.

JC: I use it mostly for adjusting the temperature when I’m not home.

ED: I have both thermostats programmed for days and times of the week when we are home and sleeping. Since we’re all working and taking classes from home, I have not set up away modes yet. Otherwise, I let them run, and manually adjust as I need to. In the winter, I sometimes manually turned up the heat while still in bed, to pre-warm the room. Eventually, I re-programmed my schedule to do that automatically for me. We also ask Alexa trivial questions, set timers and play music. And if I’m lazy, I’ll ask Alexa to make it warmer or cooler.

What would you do differently next time, if anything?

JP: If I did it over again, I’d do more research to see which one would work best for me. And I’d go through my energy utility to purchase it.

RF: I think I would do more research into purchasing it directly from my energy utility. I also would like to know ahead of time more about the tracking and efficiency functionalities of the device.

JC: I think if my energy utility would have said something more about its promotions or offers we probably would have gone through them for purchase with more specific rationale. Otherwise, we’re really happy with everything — how it installed, integrated and connected over to everything was easy.

ED: If I had to do it over, I probably would not have spent the extra money on the voice-enabled thermostat for the upstairs. I haven’t even turned it on yet after four months. I would have gotten the Ecobee3 Lite Thermostat and considered adding room sensors. I did it because the price was half off. But given how we’re using it on the second floor, it feels like a splurge. 

Then again, we are putting the sensors that came with the thermostat to use on the second floor, since we’re all here in the home much of the time. And I do enjoy how it learns and makes recommendations; it’s just that so far, I have chosen comfort over savings and have not implemented the suggestions. And once things return more to normal and we’re not home during the day, I don’t know how much value the sensors will have — probably just evenings and weekends. 

Also, I relied on third-party reviews, and I don’t remember if I even went to the Ecobee website to read about its products. In retrospect, this might have been helpful in seeing all the differences between the thermostats, rather than solely relying on reviews and on Columbia Gas’s descriptions. 

Also, I have yet to use these thermostats during the cooling season — it’s all been heating. I’m very curious to know how things go once we start running the A/C. 

Finally, I did have an issue with the upstairs thermostat that was likely based on a poor wiring connection that I made when I installed it. Ecobee was super helpful and friendly and walked me through different diagnostics, and I was able to fix it myself with their instructions. They have support through phone, email, and online chat. They could see all the history of when I was encountering a problem, which was both helpful and a little unnerving at the same time as I realized my data is out there. Then again, it’s just temperature and furnace data.

Review your utility’s engagement efforts around smart thermostats

As customers continue to integrate smart technology into their homes, including smart thermostats, is your energy utility prepared to guide them along their purchasing journey? Continue to listen to your customers’ needs to understand and connect with them in ways that matter most. In doing so, you’ll be able to gain valuable customer trust and increase engagement with your energy utility’s online marketplace.

Promote your energy utility’s smart thermostat rebates and incentives with a Marketplace Content Strategy from Questline Digital.

Spring is quickly approaching — and that means warmer temperatures, flowers blooming and longer days. This time of year is also an opportunity for your energy utility to jumpstart program promotions and increase customer engagement.

Read on to learn about the top five programs and services to share with your customers to prepare them for the upcoming season and beyond.  

1. Help with the honey-do list

For homeowners, spring is all about home improvements, spring cleaning and checking projects off their honey-do list. Your energy utility can help make these DIY projects easier by sharing educational content for home improvements, such as sealing windows and doors, replacing a furnace filter or insulating hot water pipes.

For example, share an entertaining video or eye-catching infographic detailing the steps to accomplish a specific home project. Questline Digital’s popular video series “You Can” is a great example of teaching customers how to take on easy DIY projects with the guidance of a friendly host like television personality Jeff Wilson.

A big motivator for starting home improvement projects is achieving greater savings. That’s why it behooves energy utilities to promote energy efficiency products available in your marketplace, such as smart thermostats, LED lighting and ENERGY STAR appliances. If your energy utility offers home energy assessments, encourage customers to analyze their energy usage before summer’s rising temperatures bring higher energy bills.

2. Step up before storm season

For many parts of the country, spring is a welcome relief from the frigid winter weather. However, this season also means an increased risk of severe storms. Prepare your customers before storms strike by promoting your energy utility’s outage email or text alerts. This is an opportunity for your customers to be proactive during storm season, ensuring they aren’t left in the dark when an outage occurs.

Your energy utility also benefits from sharing quick, easy ways to report an outage, such as through MyAccount or your utility’s mobile app. In these communications, be sure to share valuable resources like outage maps, storm preparedness tips and where to find restoration updates. Outages are a frustrating experience for everyone, but proactive outage communications can make a big impact on customer satisfaction scores.

3. Encourage EV adoption

Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, is known as one of the best times to buy a new car. In the coming months, your customers will probably begin their research on electric vehicles before making a purchase during this deal-filled weekend. Help their research process by sharing available electric vehicle or EV charger rebates. The extra savings might be enough to encourage them to make the switch.

Similarly, reach out to business customers with rebates on electric warehouse equipment or electric vehicles for their fleets. By purchasing electric equipment now, businesses can help offset the higher energy demand in the summer.

4. Say “hello” to new customers

Spring is the start of moving season, which runs into the summer months. This is an opportunity for your energy utility to welcome new customers, as well as reintroduce your programs and services to existing customers moving within your service area.

A Welcome Series is a best-practice solution to connect with these customers at the start of service when they are most engaged. Our most recent Benchmarks data shows that more than half of all Welcome Series emails are opened, the start of a digital relationship that continues with higher email engagement throughout the customer’s journey with your utility.

Through a series of automated emails sent over a regular cadence, your energy utility can share important information like MyAccount and billing options, energy efficiency programs, outage resources and community initiatives.

We recommend segmenting your Welcome Series by new and moving customers to personalize this content to each audience. Additionally, consider personalizing your energy efficiency-focused message to homeowners and renters by sharing relevant products and programs. For example, renters are more interested in easy fixes like smart power strips and water-saving showerheads, while homeowners would be open to more expensive upgrades like energy efficient appliances and whole-house energy assessments.

5. Offer resources to reduce monthly bills

Rising temperatures means higher electric bills for your customers. Before the dog days of summer, help your customers take control of their energy use. Promote your high bill resources, energy usage tracking resources (such as through MyAccount or your energy utility’s mobile app) and smart meter information. Customers are often not aware of the steps they can take to improve energy savings and prepare for peak demand months.

In addition to high bill promotions, educate customers about the various payment assistance programs available if they experience unexpected financial hardship. Summer means rising energy bills, so you want to prepare them ahead of high bill season. 

Program promotions are blooming this spring

Your customers are looking forward to spring — and your energy utility should be too. This season is an opportunity to connect with customers, whether to help with their honey-do lists or prepare them for severe storms and outages. Just like the flowering trees this season, your customer engagement can bloom with the right program promotions this spring.

Learn how Questline Digital can build customer engagement and boost participation with effective program promotions for your utility.

At the start of their energy service, business customers need the right tools to succeed. By connecting with this target audience from day one, your energy utility can welcome business customers, help them better manage their account and take control of their energy use.

A Welcome Series is a great way to connect with hard-to-reach business customers in your service area and show them your energy utility is a helpful resource and energy expert. As Questline Digital’s performance metrics show, establishing a digital relationship at the start of service is the foundation of long-lasting customer engagement and future program participation. Read on for what to include in your personalized Welcome Series to business customers.

Share resources for easy bill management

With endless tasks on their to-do list, business customers want to save time and embrace convenience. That’s why they need an easy way to manage their bill. In your Welcome Series, promote programs and services that can make business customers’ daily lives a little easier, including:

  • My Account: Emphasize the ability to access all of their account information in one place online, similar to an electronic filing cabinet.
  • Paperless billing: Business customers are always on the go. Focus on 24/7 bill access from their smartphone or tablet.
  • Auto pay: Promote the convenience of never forgetting a payment. Auto pay is a valuable service for busy business owners.
  • Mobile app: Highlight the benefits of your mobile app as a fast and easy way to access account information, which improves business customers’ energy experience.

Promote efficiency upgrades and DIY solutions

Energy efficiency has a profound impact on a business, both on its bottom line and reputation. A business with a focus on energy efficiency is viewed favorably by customers, employees and the public. However, many business customers may not realize how to become more energy efficient. Help local businesses make valuable efficiency upgrades by promoting:

  • Rebate programs and upgrades: Promote programs that make it easy for businesses to improve their carbon footprint and bottom line, whether through an in-person site assessment or an online energy tracking tool.
  • Demand response programs: Show business customers how they can reduce the risk of grid overload and help their utility meet clean energy goals while also improving their bottom line by participating in demand response programs.
  • Your energy utility’s marketplace: Promote the offerings in your energy marketplace, such as LED lighting and ENERGY STAR appliances, along with the benefits of choosing your marketplace over a major retailer.
  • Energy efficiency tips and advice: Business customers appreciate upgrades they can do themselves to improve energy efficiency. Share simple, no-cost tips to help them transform their facility.
  • Electric vehicle information: Provide information on EV rebate programs specific to businesses, such as electric warehouse equipment. Many businesses are also looking to electrify their fleets.

Prepare businesses with safety and reliability information

For business customers, reliability and keeping their business running smoothly is top of mind. However, power outages can happen at any time. An outage has the ability to negatively impact business operations, including reduced output, decreased employee productivity and lost revenue.

We recommend sharing outage information at the start of energy service, so they are prepared before an outage happens at their facility:

  • How to report an outage: Provide customers with all the ways they can report an outage, whether online, by phone or via social media channels.
  • Online outage map: Business customers want to know the details of an outage, such as the number of customers affected, estimated restoration time and cause of the outage. This is why sharing a link to your website’s outage map is helpful.
  • Outage alerts: Encourage customers to sign up for outage text or email alerts to receive real-time updates throughout an outage. This is the best way to keep business customers informed, while improving customer satisfaction scores.
  • Gas leak information: Share helpful safety tips your business customers need to know, including what to do and what number to call if they smell or hear a gas leak.

Welcome business customers on day one

Your business customers have distinct needs — that’s why your energy utility benefits from a Welcome Series personalized to this audience. From easy ways to manage their account to energy efficiency upgrades, business customers are looking for ways to save time, improve their carbon footprint and increase cost savings. By reaching businesses at the start of service, your energy utility can help them get closer to their goals while achieving long-term customer satisfaction.

Learn how a Welcome Series from Questline Digital will build an effective digital relationship with your business customers.

What important energy trends should your natural gas customers be aware of in 2021? As their trusted resource, your energy utility should be prepared to answer customer questions and provide information that helps customers get up-to-speed on innovations and new technologies. To get started, here are five energy trends for natural gas consumption and end-use equipment for 2021 and beyond.

1. Natural Gas Consumption

While natural gas consumption in the U.S. dropped somewhat due to the pandemic, the share of natural gas for power generation has grown significantly. Natural gas-fired generators accounted for 43% of operating U.S. electricity generating capacity (GW) in 2019. These natural gas-fired generators also provided 39% of electricity generation (GWh) in 2019, more than any other source. McKinsey’s North American gas model shows that U.S. demand will continue to grow from 95 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) to 125 bcfd by 2035.

2. Natural Gas-Fueled Heat Pumps

Combined heat and power (CHP) may have to soon be renamed cooling, heat and power. These three outputs from natural gas are now available all in one box. A natural gas-fueled internal combustion engine (ICE) drives a heat pump, which produces both heat and cooling. The ICE also drives an alternator producing power (6 to 10 kW) that can be stored in its on-board batteries.

The number of manufacturers offering engine-driven natural gas-fueled heat pumps is growing. Higher performance gas-fired absorption heat pumps and heat pump water heaters and Vuilleumier cycle thermodynamic heat pumps are under development.

3. Condensing Boilers

New developments are improving condensing boiler performance. In a dual return system, two return ports, one above the other, receive return water, with each return port separated from the other by a baffle in the tube bundle. The cooler water enhances condensing before it is blended with higher-temperature return water on the other side of the baffle.

An advanced forced-air condensing natural gas-fired tankless water heater combi system can achieve 30% to 50% energy savings relative to separate best-in-class condensing furnaces and water heaters. These developments will drive faster market penetration of condensing boilers and more energy savings.

4. Boiler Control

Integrated support for BACnet, LONworks and ModBus connectivity facilitates many boiler control functions.

  • Remote control and diagnostics
  • Boiler-to-boiler communications
  • Burner modulation
  • Lead-lag rotation
  • Integration with building automation systems (BAS)

Boiler connectivity reduces maintenance response time and costs, improves visibility of operations and allows multiple boiler systems to work better together.

5. Boiler Modularity

Greater efficiency is shrinking the size of boilers. Manufacturers are allowing several smaller units to be (literally) bolted together to increase capacity. This allows replacing larger legacy boilers that are in otherwise inaccessible locations.

Natural gas trends for the new year

Is your utility’s customer engagement strategy ready for 2021? Keeping these emerging trends in mind will help your energy utility put its best foot forward in the new year, and help you better advise natural gas customers.

Educate your natural gas business customers about energy trends with a Questline Digital eNewsletter.