WebMe puts the Me in metaverse. Soon, the metaverse will be a primary channel through which utilities engage with customers and manage their workforce. There are many similarities between the metaverse and the energy transition. Both will mature on a continuum – an evolving spectrum that comprises a range of technologies, which stretches from digital to physical, and encompasses consumer experiences and enterprise business models alike. Most importantly, both present an opportunity for utilities to leapfrog into digital leadership roles.
of utilities executives state that the metaverse will have a positive impact on their organizations.
Demystifying the metaverse continuum
What does the metaverse mean for utilities? It provides an integrated, holistic view of the evolving customer relationship. It is important to remember that the metaverse is not an abstract idea. We’re already doing things in the metaverse, we’re just not calling it that right now. The metaverse continuum describes the evolution of the combination of humans and machines, from today’s use of digital twins and conversational artificial intelligence (AI), to completely new business models based on Web3.
Metaverse and Web3 innovations are transforming the fundamental underpinnings and operation of the virtual world. Instead of viewing the internet as a disparate collection of sites and apps, metaverse initiatives envision a persistent 3D environment, with its own sense of place, where moving from work to a social platform is as simple as walking across the street. For utilities, it enables a much wider and diverse experience, whether you’re managing EV charging, local energy markets, energy efficiency, data collection, collaboration with third parties, or employee safety.
of utilities executives who believe the metaverse will have a breakthrough or transformational impact on their organizations, 99% believe it will be within the next four years.
of the 42% believe it will be within the next four years.
For example, Accenture is working with a European utility on its journey into the Metaverse. The utility has created a virtual campus, which creates an immersive learning experience to speed up digital upskilling and intrinsic motivated learning. The campus drives team collaboration, creating an environment where partners and start-ups can learn how to stay ahead of technology, develop new business models and innovate.
A new channel to simplify the complexity for residential customers
The energy transition is a continuum along which the industry moves from commodity-based business models to non-commodity. In this world, utility customers no longer buy energy. Instead, they buy comfort and reliability. As such, the criteria they use to choose a supplier will change dramatically. This will be the competitive battleground of the future, fought over who simplifies the complexity that millions of prosumers face when optimizing their homes: helping them understand how and when to charge EVs and storage, when to use self-generated solar, when to sell it to the grid, even which smart appliances are compatible with their local energy markets.
This new world requires a more personalized approach to the residential customer experience. The metaverse can help personalize this relationship. In a world where utilities make money by helping customers save money, a metaverse-based store front is the perfect place to engage with customers. The opportunities for utilities to leapfrog to digital leadership are endless.
of consumers agree that “The next technology revolution needs to be led by human-centric experiences, giving people more control over their data”.
For example, EV owners currently experience many issues when using public charging infrastructure. Without significant and rapid intervention, the huge growth of EVs over the coming decade will compound these issues by orders of magnitude. The metaverse can be used to improve this experience in many regards. Customers can use the metaverse to understand the current state of charging networks and plan their routes accordingly. A metaverse store front can be used to educate customers on how to buy and charge an EV, and how an EV can earn the customer money in local energy markets.
of consumers agree their digital life is increasingly becoming their “real life”.
The metaverse can also be used to engage customers to promote completely new business models, such as how they can use energy as a currency, participate in community energy projects, or donate power to charities.
Enabling an immersive fieldworker experience
The metaverse continuum perfectly describes the increasing convergence of fieldworkers and machines during the next decade. Over this period, as technologies mature, utilities will incrementally improve approaches to fieldworker training, safety, and asset planning.
Why is this important now? The energy transition requires a new generation of fieldworkers, who will often work in hazardous conditions. Offshore wind will explode in scale over this period, potentially tripling today’s capacity. Hydrogen and offshore carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) will also grow dramatically. The workforce must similarly scale to manage these assets’ construction, operations, maintenance and decommissioning. Some of this demand will be met by employees leaving oil and gas, but they alone will not be enough.
As future generations move further offshore, into more hostile environments, the industry must find ways to provide this new workforce with high quality training in a safe, simulated environment. The metaverse offers them such an environment. Trainees can experience in a virtual world what it is like to go into the field, and explore digital representations of each asset. Field engineers will go into the field fully supported by extended reality and digital twin data right at their fingertips. They will be supported by onshore experts wearing virtual reality (VR) headsets who can supervise their work in the field, significantly de-risking field activities.
The metaverse can extend well beyond utilities’ remit, and help city planners rethink the urban environment. That’s because the metaverse will enable different stakeholders in an urban environment to share data. It will help grid operators collaborate with other urban infrastructure to prepare their networks for transformation. And it will help connect citizens with their urban infrastructure while also helping to deliver services in a more equitable way.
This is a continuum, so understand where you are and where you can be
The challenge for utilities is not just how to use the metaverse to address well known issues, but how to design completely new business models. The metaverse continuum is not limited to the utility industry. Others – including many utility customers – will rapidly embrace the metaverse. Mobile phones may soon have in-built lidar scanners as standard, enabling customers to render virtual representations of their properties in the metaverse. What energy-based services can be built on these images? What services will complement other consumer applications in the metaverse?
If a homeowner has already created a virtual representation of their building, a utility could use that to accurately estimate the cost of a solar installation, the solar irradiation potential for different design options, and what return on investment can be achieved. They will know how high installers will have to go to fix the panels, the orientation and pitch of the roof, and local insolation rates.
The metaverse could also help de-risk other services from providers, such as lenders and insurers. The metaverse will enable these companies to tailor their services based on the proposed design and building specifications, helping to accelerate the rate of adoption for solar panels, batteries and heat pumps.
Utilities executives agree that future digital platforms need to offer unified experiences, enabling interoperability of customers’ data across different platforms and spaces (97%) and that the realization of Web3 over the next decade will fundamentally change how businesses engage with users online (91%).
We’re only at the start of the metaverse continuum. But it’s vital that every utility executive understands where they can be in a decade’s time.