Why it’s time to revamp ‘PAYG’ heat network charging

In recent years, In-Home Display (IHD) devices have been centre stage of heat network pay-as-you-go (PAYG) billing solutions. IHDs have enabled consumers to view their energy consumption and keep their account in credit from the comfort of their homes. They also offer landlord heat providers important efficiency and control advantages over credit billing alternatives. However, the capital and operational costs of IHDs have sadly seen PAYG technology fail to achieve its wider potential, particularly in developments outside London.

This is unfortunate, particularly when surveys indicate that such PAYG products lead to reduced energy consumption and that consumers are ready and willing to accept new technologies that offer greater convenience and transparency.  

From their experience of energy metering, and billing , SAV Systems and Insite Energy recognised the need for a revolutionary improvement in how energy usage could be displayed, which was both simpler and less expensive than IHDs. For heat network customers, the aim was to bring a standard of digitised service similar to that now offered by internet-connected devices such as Google Nest, Amazon Alexa, Ring, online-banking and an endless range of smart-phone applications.

With no existing product solution available on the market, SAV and Insite developed KURVE, the first PAYG product to use a smart metering web-based App, moving away from a hardware display. KURVE gives customers the ability to access their account on any internet-based device such as a smart phone, computer or tablet. Customers can now have full control of their energy account, to manage it at their convenience, not just at home, but also ‘on the go’.

By making this functionality affordable and convenient, it is hoped that KURVE will enhance the engagement and consumption awareness of heat network customers, thus promoting environmentally conscious behaviour.

KURVE allows customers to ‘self-serve’ quickly and effectively online. It avoids the need for contact with customer service agents, which modern-day consumers can do without. A 2017 study by Accenture Strategy found that American customers typically spend 9.2 minutes per annum interacting digitally with their energy accounts, compared to 20 minutes a day on Facebook. For dealings with energy providers, consumers emphasized the importance of time (by having minimal touch points), convenience (by keeping interactions simple) and value for money. Everything else was just “noise.” Providers who heed this advice can expect to be rewarded with increased customer satisfaction and trust.

Self-service not only suits consumers, it also makes good business sense for heat providers. With Anglian Water for example, online access given to over 25% of its customer base led to a reduction in average call-handling time of 20 seconds. Customer satisfaction increased accordingly, with 88% declaring themselves “very satisfied”.

By introducing digital accessibility and smart metering, heat network customers will gain a greater understanding of their energy consumption and be able to manage their accounts more effectively.

A key concern for the clients of SAV Systems and Insite Energy is the support of vulnerable customers who commonly require a bill nominee to manage their account. This has not always been easy to put into effect with via IHDs. KURVE’s remote control functionality provides seamless access to an authorised person who can then ensure the proper management of energy supply to the dependent person.

Over the coming months, Insite Energy will be conducting a review with clients and their residential customers on the topic of digital tools and energy accounts. When completed, Insite intends to share the findings with the market.