Interview with Jenny Cameron, Chief Executive, Electricity Retailers' Association New Zealand (ERANZ)
14 September 2017
Jenny Cameron is Chief Executive of the Electricity Retailers' Association New Zealand (ERANZ). Established in 2015, ERANZ represents companies that sell electricity to New Zealand customers and businesses. ERANZ's role is to promote and enhance a sustainable and competitive retail electricity market that delivers value to New Zealand electricity customers.
1) How does the work of ERANZ affect consumers?
We are here to promote and enhance an open and competitive energy market that delivers value to customers. An open and competitive market benefits consumers because it creates innovation. Retailers compete in three ways: either through price, products or service. The more competition there is, the more retailers will be driven to deliver value to customers on those measures.
ERANZ seeks to ensure that rules for the sector allow a level playing field on which to compete and that regulations are fit for purpose. A fit for purpose regulatory environment benefits consumers because it means the regulation delivers market settings that will allow innovation and competition to thrive to the benefit of the customers.
ERANZ operates in the pre-competitive space--this means the issues that are common to all in the sector that establish the ground on which to compete. Areas that are naturally pre-competitive are such issues as managing vulnerable customers, or addressing sector reputation. ERANZ also works to highlight the strengths of the New Zealand electricity system--its renewability (over 80%), its reliability (99.97%) and its overall affordability (11th cheapest in the OECD).
2) What are electricity retailers doing to get consumers more engaged in benefiting from what the company does?
Electricity retailers are all adopting different ways of engaging customers. Some of them are exploring new technologies and are looking at batteries, solar generation, apps and home energy management systems. Other retailers are looking at developing pricing packages that suit different customer lifestyles. Other retailers are looking at ways to engage consumers around low carbon or carbon zero options. Others are looking at new services regarding electric vehicles and e-bikes. Some are focusing on giving highly exceptional customer service, some are more community driven. Some are doing all of the above, and others are targeting specific areas for their customer base.
Because New Zealand is a competitive market with over 35 retailers, each retailer will be finding a niche for what appeals to their customer base. Since people can move easily from one provider to the next, retailers have to fight hard to be sure they are engaging customers. Retailers are doing their own internal monitoring of customer satisfaction and closely watch those results. We know that what customers want from energy retailers (as well as other services such as banking, insurance or telcos) is a different level of engagement, insight, choice and control. Retailers are monitoring that landscape and responding, each in their own way.
3) What socially beneficial programmes are electricity retailers supporting?
All across the country, electricity retailers are supporting programmes in their communities. To name but a few, Trustpower sponsors the Community Awards across the country, Mercury sponsors Starship Children’s Hospital, Flick supports the national Comedy Awards, Genesis Energy sponsors the Curtain Bank, Contact Energy sponsors the youth development programme CACTUS, Meridian has partnered with the Department of Conservation (DOC) to support the Kākāpō Recovery Programme, Pulse Energy has done partnerships with Grey Power and The Learning Place, Nova Energy works with the Todd Foundation to sponsor numerous activities.
These are just some examples and there are many, many more around the country. The electricity retailers have aligned with communities in different ways to deliver initiatives to benefit their customers.
4) What is the most important thing for consumers to know about dealing with their retailer?
Consumers should know they can talk to their retailer. The retailer is there to provide a service to their customers. The most important thing is to have a conversation early because the earlier the retailer knows about an issue, the more options are available. If circumstances change, or start to become difficult, customers should contact their retailer as they might be able to assist. For example, a new baby enters the household. This can change usage patterns and it might be the case that a different plan would suit the customer’s lifestyle better.
If people aren’t sure about something, call the retailer and ask questions. It is better not to wait until the issue has become too big to manage on both the customer or retailer side. Remember that the retailers are fiercely competing to keep their current customers and attract new customers, so they want to keep customers satisfied. But within reason also, as retailers are not credit finance companies. This is why it is important to discuss any issues or questions with the retailer early when there are more options available to them to assist.
Consumers should also know if they’ve got complaints or issues that have they haven’t been able to resolve after working through the retailer’s processes, they can go to Utilities Disputes for assistance.
5) Many people have concerns about billing. What should people do about payment problems?
The three things that influence the bill are (1) the home (is it insulated? damp? drafty?); (2) appliances (are they efficient? Is it a one-bar heater trying valiantly to heat a whole house? is the drier ventilated? are the lightbulbs LED?); (3) behaviour (can showers be shorter? can the clothes be washed in cold? can lights be turned off when not in use? can the washing machine be put on at night?). Retailers all have tips for reducing energy bills on their websites, or you can ring or write to them to ask for that advice. Some retailers can offer home energy assessments or can put customers in touch with a service that does this type of assessment, for example the Sustainability Trust in Wellington or EECA.
But sometimes it is just that the energy bill is more than the customer can manage in that period, or was an unexpected amount. If customers are falling behind in payment or are confused, the sooner they engage with the retailer the better. The retailer has more options available to them to help if the debt amount is smaller. The retailer can put them on a plan for smooth-pay or have a discussion about the pricing package they are on. Retailers can put customers in touch with local budgeting services or other agencies. ERANZ has a few tips for customers on our website too: https://www.eranz.org.nz/for-customers/.
6) What is the impact of the “energy prosumer” on electricity retailers?
An energy prosumer is defined as someone who both produces and consumes electricity. Many electricity companies are actively engaged in trials involving prosumers. Energy retailers realise that the prosumer is another category of customer who needs to be engaged and value needs to be provided to them. Prosumers are an important part of the discussion regarding resilience of the electricity system--this is especially important in an earthquake-prone country such as New Zealand.
Prosumers are also part of the discussion when it comes to reaching New Zealand’s low-carbon emissions target. Electric vehicles are a key way to decarbonise our economy, and they too in time will become “prosumers” capable of feeding into as well as charging from the grid or the household.
Given our roughly 85% renewable energy generation profile in New Zealand, we need to make sure the conversations around the impact of energy “prosumers” and the different generation types are well-informed. The grid will always be needed in some form. The electricity system needs to adapt and make the best use of all technologies available (old and new) to make sure we have an energy system fit for the future and the needs of all customers.