When people think of solar energy in the US, they generally think of sunny California, not Midwestern states like Illinois. When ComEd, the region's largest energy provider, approached Accenture and Fjord to help them bring solar to their four million customers in a desirable, feasible and viable way, we knew we would have to innovate from the ground up.
In ten weeks, the multi-disciplinary innovation and design team developed, prototyped and validated a customer-centric Northstar vision, strategy and roadmap for bringing solar to residential and business customers. Based on primary and secondary research, we identified viable solar solutions and business models for specific customer segments, including low-income communities. For each segment, we envisioned desirable and feasible end-to-end customer experiences, powered by new content, services, products, tools, processes, and enabling technologies.
The team carefully applied the very best of strategic thinking, design thinking, and lateral thinking throughout the innovation and design process. We conducted ethnographic research to uncover underserved/unmet needs, motivators, and situational factors. We facilitated co-creation sessions with key stakeholders across multiple silos in the organization. We depicted the exchange and co-creation of value between multiple actors in business ecosystem maps and service blueprints. We created innovative value propositions and concepts for new/revamped services, products and tools. We brought strategies and concepts to life through visualizations, mockups and mid-fidelity prototypes. We created a comprehensive framework for measuring performance and desired outcomes. And so on.
Working with Accenture and Fjord, ComEd now has the right strategy, solutions and roadmap to achieve a brighter, more sustainable future for both customers and the organization itself.
ComEd produces and delivers electricity service in the US state of Illinois. Founded in 1907, ComEd is the largest utility in Illinois, and a subsidiary of Exelon, the largest regulated utility in the US. ComEd brings power to four million residential and business customers, with annual revenues of $15bn.
Of those four million customers, less than 1,000 get their power from solar energy, the majority of it coming from coal and nuclear plants. The Future Energy Jobs Act of Illinois (FEJA) seeks to change that, and to usher a new wave of renewable energy. FEJA provides financial incentives like purchase rebates and tax deductions, making the cost of solar systems more manageable for residents and businesses.
ComEd is responsible for delivering reliable, safe electricity and professional service to its customers, regardless of the energy's source. The financial proposition created by FEJA would drive an increase in solar projects, and ComEd's obligation and reputation would extend beyond what they directly controlled as they played a key role in connecting third party manufacturers, engineers and installers, customers and communities.
At that time, ComEd's capabilities were limited to the relatively small number of solar energy projects they were connecting to their power grid each year. They needed to prepare themselves with the knowledge, people and capabilities to facilitate new solar services at scale that were profitable and to the same quality standards as their existing offerings.
ComEd wanted our help to make the end-to-end experience of understanding, adopting and using solar as accessible, frictionless and engaging as possible. Key customer segments were residents, businesses, and residents and businesses in low-income communities. They also wanted to explore opportunities to engage low-income communities through green jobs and training.
Furthermore, they wanted our help to identify and seize viable market opportunities through new or revamped customer-facing services, products, and tools. Finally, they wanted our help to identify how their organization would have to adapt and grow internally to deliver this 'new-to-the-business' business (a good example of adjacent innovation).
The team took a strategic approach of research, co-creation, prototyping and testing. Research began with in-person interviews of existing solar and traditional energy customers in Illinois, and global case studies for inspiration. We spoke with solar installers, electric grid specialists, community organizers and subject matter experts.
We then worked together with our client in a series of co-creation workshops. We examined user journeys and developed new ideas to address needs. We identified key customer segments, explored the potential of rooftop and distributed solar systems, and brainstormed ways to bring solar innovations to prioritized segments, considering the complex ecosystem of actors involved. We brought concepts to life through visualizations and prototypes and tested them in discussions and co-creation sessions with customers and stakeholders. Visualizations and prototypes included business ecosystem maps, mockups of digital experiences, and physical solar panel devices. Furthermore, we envisioned end-to-end solar customer experiences for specific segments and solar solutions by creating B2B2B and B2B2C service blueprints and multiple service scenarios (storyboards).
The innovation and design team identified four key business drivers to encourage adoption of solar: streamlining and scaling the existing connection process (to make it much easier to connect new customers to the grid); attracting, supporting and evaluating solar developers (who typically design, install and maintain solar solutions); educating and engaging customers (to help them understand what solar is, what the options are, and what the benefits might be); and empowering and rewarding customers (to reward them for choosing solar and turning them into ambassadors).
Because many types and configurations of solar systems in developed markets do not yet exist in Illinois, the team identified six viable deployment models to bring solar to identified customer segments, including: rooftop solar; distributed solar that customers can subscribe to remotely; ComEd-owned systems; and hybrid systems that customers acquire over time.
Around the key business drivers, the team created market offerings that included six content solutions and sixteen design solutions, ranging from education initiatives and community engagement to new or revamped services, digital tools and processes.
Together with the client, the team co-created an implementation framework to guide informed decision-making as they move forward. Organized around the four key business drivers, the framework describes: intended business outcomes and key performance metrics, potential constraints and mitigating steps. The framework includes a five-year roadmap with prioritized milestones over the next 12, 24 and 60 months.
Since delivering this project, our client has taken significant steps towards realizing their solar capability, including growing their internal solar operating team, and scoping solutions for commercialization. Two design solutions being scoped: SunScreen, an online assessment tool that helps people evaluate their energy usage to see if a solar solution is right for them; and Mini Panel, a small solar panel for prospective rooftop solar customers to spark interest in the idea of solar, and entice customers to evaluate how solar generation will work for their home or business.
Finally, the client has begun to adopt the collaborative innovation process and tools we introduced, for themselves. They have used our solar deployment model diagrams in roundtable discussions with developers, industry leaders and lawmakers to develop commercial structures for solar projects.
This project created forward momentum beyond the bounds of the design brief. Working with Accenture and Fjord, ComEd now has the right strategy, solutions and roadmap to achieve ambitious business, social and environmental goals for their their customers and their organization.