Asia’s energy market is being disrupted, and there are three key forces at work: new suppliers, cheaper technologies, and more demanding customers.

Esri, a geospatial technology company, has been working with utilities across the world which have gone through similar changes. We have developed platforms using location technology that allow utilities to work better with all the players in the ecosystem.

Here we look at what is shaping the future of energy in Asia and three key areas of engagement they must improve.

The forces driving change

First, regulators are opening up the industry to new local and international players, disrupting long-held monopolies. And with more competition, customers benefit from reduced rates. Singapore has seen the entrance of new suppliers, providing options such as renewable sources that were not previously available to customers. Malaysia is heading down the same path, with the government setting a timeline for the next two to three years.

Next, customers expect to receive the same ease and choice from their electricity suppliers as they do with other daily service providers like banks and transport. And with greater competition, utilities care more about what customers think of them. They expect services to be automated, so they don’t have to pick up the phone every time they need information. When they do, they want quick and accurate answers.

The third major change is the rise of distributed energy sources. Households and businesses increasingly have the ability to generate, store and sell their own electricity. This is possible because of two things: the falling cost of alternative energy sources like solar, and better storage technologies – and adds a new source of disruption for traditional utilities.

All of these mean that the market is getting more competitive and customers are paying greater attention. Inefficiencies that would have stayed hidden in the past are surfacing and will not be tolerated. To keep up, utilities will need to drive greater engagement with their stakeholders across the board: customers, employees and regulators.

Esri recommends three ways in which utilities in Asia can engage better.

1. Put customers in control

Allowing customers to get answers quickly puts them in control. When utilities share information on a map, customers can see what is happening in their neighbourhood, filtering out areas that are not of interest. On maps, utilities can share updates on maintenance, outages, and restoration timelines. This is all done in real-time and before customers pick up the phone, which for utilities means a lower cost to serve each person.

When customers do call, they want quick and accurate answers. Digital and layered maps can provide customer service centres with critical information at their fingertips. They can filter this by the caller’s location, immediately showing up l the most relevant information they need to answer questions as quickly as possible.

2. Strengthen the industry ecosystem

Utilities must engage better with the people they work with. Maps provide an excellent platform for companies to create a common picture for all their employees. Right from top management to field staff, everyone knows what’s happening and where – whether that’s tracking repair crews and vehicles on the move or checking in on the health and safety of infrastructure like weather monitors, substations and cables.

For critical events, like a power failure or natural disaster, utilities can set up automatic alerts to key personnel, triggered across multiple channels – emails, texts and instant messages. And when everyone has access to the same accurate information through a geospatial platform, they can make emergency decisions quicker.

A common operational picture will mean that utilities can make better long term decisions and understand how market trends will affect their business. For instance, how could infrastructure be better connected to benefit from distributed energy sources?

Utilities can share this information with grid operators and partners generating, transmitting, storing and distributing energy. This could get the entire ecosystem to work together and get ready for what lies ahead.

3. Engage with regulators

The third critical group to engage is the government. With greater concerns of attacks on critical infrastructure, there are more regulatory eyes on the security and reliability of utilities.

Utilities must constantly monitor their network for disruptions and suspicious patterns, and be able to quickly share information with regulators, including where it originated and which communities have been most affected. Having access to this data allows regulators to see where there are weaknesses across the entire industry and identify additional requirements to be put in place.

The converse is also true – utilities and regulators must engage to identify new areas of opportunity and innovation. Location-based contextual data can go a long way in helping them identify those bright spots.