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How AI Is Lighting Up the Energy Industry

A graphic of a brain with a power grid embedded within it connected to four batteries to represent AI in energy and utilities.
With the rapid advancement of AI technology over the last year, it's time to take AI in energy and utilities to the next level with generative AI. [Adobe | Studio Science]

Energy and utility companies can take advantage of AI to build better customer experiences and operate more efficiently.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already having a big effect on the energy and utilities industry. Many organizations are using predictive AI to monitor how often customers use their services. That information can help them make operational improvements, such as knowing when peak demand times occur and allocating resources accordingly.

With the rapid advancement of this technology over the last year, it’s time to take AI in energy and utilities to the next level with generative AI. We’ll discuss how energy and utility companies can use it to build better customer experiences and take advantage of its capabilities to operate more efficiently.

How experts are using AI for energy success

Learn from experts about how AI is achieving scale, speed, and trust for the energy industry in the on-demand webinar Super-Powered: How AI Scales Energy and Utility Operations to Benefit People and Planet. 

Beyond buzzwords: adopting generative AI in energy and utilities

The industry is already using predictive AI. MIT Technology Review recently wrote about how AI can help make the power grid faster and more resilient. Now it’s time to embrace the next wave of this technology: using generative AI.

International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that 45% of energy suppliers will use generative AI technologies, like chatbots, to improve ‌customer experience in 2024. This can lead to operational efficiencies, such as cutting calls to contact centers by over 60%.

A study done by the CapGemini Research Institute found that a third of utilities are exploring generative AI for customer service.

For energy and utilities companies, the “relationship” in customer relationship management (CRM) is everything. Improving customer service to build better relationships is a responsibility for the entire organization. Customers expect the highest quality of service, which is impacted by contact center engagements, field service efficiency, and always-on resource availability. 

Generative AI can help with all of that. It offers low-cost, personalized service for customers. It helps crews work safer and more efficiently. AI can also speed up service restoration and improve communications for outages.   

Overcoming obstacles for generative AI in energy and utilities

Change can be tough, and adopting generative AI is no different. Though IDC said it expects the industry will start using generative AI more, Capgemini found that 41% of these companies are choosing to wait and see how things go with this technology before they decide to use it.

People are hesitant to adopt AI for different reasons. For example, in industries with strict rules, like energy and utilities, people might not trust new technology. They might not fully understand how it works or how to use it in a responsible and honest way.

But beyond the human element, energy and utility companies often face challenges related to the data needed to fuel AI.

This industry produces a lot of data, but it often sits with different teams. Customer profile data might be in one place, while billing data is in another. One team might have access to telemetry data from customer-side grid assets, while another team has access to the same customer’s behavior data from self-service or program channels.

Combining data from different systems can also be a challenge for energy and utility companies using AI. For example, one system might call a customer a “customer,” while another calls them a “rate payer.” Companies need to make sure their data is consistent and complete to benefit from AI.  

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It can also be difficult to bring data together from different sources. With data coming from customers, contractors, and regulators, you might struggle to get a complete, full picture of your customers and their needs. A single view of your customers gives you the power to create a personalized experience that can be further enhanced with AI.

Making sure your company’s data is collected, connected, and in sync allows AI to work to your benefit and helps you:

  • Understand your customers better
  • Get quick information on assets and their usage
  • Become an energy expert for your customers

When energy and utility companies try to keep up with digital customers, they sometimes put together different solutions that aren’t connected to the bigger processes of their business. Many companies use chatbots to help customers, but sometimes the chatbot can’t answer a customer’s question completely. So the customer might have to start all over or just give up.

Five applications of generative AI in energy and utilities

The energy and utilities industry can benefit from these five applications of generative AI:

  1. Generate summaries: With generative AI, you can automatically create summaries of important information from your CRM system. This gives you a clear overview of your customers, their behaviors, and their needs.
  2. Simplify information: Generative AI can use information from different places and change it into something that’s easier for people to understand. For example, it can create suggestions on how to use energy better based on how much customers use it.
  3. Engage via chatbots: AI chatbots can answer customer questions. They do this by using a big collection of training guides and articles.
  4. Create models and simulations: Energy and utility companies can make detailed models and examples through simulations or digital twins using generative AI. For instance, energy companies can use modeling, AI, and analytics to predict the rate of penetration of electric vehicles (EVs). This helps them better understand where that spike in electricity consumption will affect the grid.
  5. Manage and plan usage: We now have much more clarity, detail, and up-to-the-minute information with AI. This gives utility companies more chances to consider how their customers act when managing and planning their power grids.

Create hyperpersonalized energy customer experiences with generative AI

Generative AI technologies have the power to give energy and utility companies an advantage over their competitors. At the 2023 Dreamforce Utilities CEO Panel, Geisha Williams, former CEO of PG&E and current member of the Energy and Utilities and Salesforce Global Advisory Board, shared her thoughts on how AI can make a big difference in the energy and utility industry.

“Utilities companies across the country are looking collectively for the best solutions with the customers in mind,” Williams said. “We’ve been talking about how to turn data into useful information for decades, and I think we finally have something that’s going to make that dream come true.”  

Energy and utilities companies can supply the full 360-degree view of customers that makes hyperpersonalization possible. With a deep understanding of your customers, you can deliver personalized journeys and interactions that match each customer to the right offer or service, through the right channels, at the right time.

Generative AI opens up new ways to use data to improve customer service and provide better outcomes. It can be used to personalize incentive offers, send targeted emails, and provide a more complete customer experience across digital channels. For service providers, AI can can give you a competitive edge by increasing productivity and reducing operational costs. All this has the potential to change the energy relationship. 

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sharon talbott energy & utilities product marketing director
Sharon Talbott Product Marketing Director, Energy & Utilities

Sharon Talbott is a product marketing director on the Energy & Utilities team at Salesforce. She has 15+ years of energy industry experience, focusing on utility customer experience, the digital utility, and the energy transition.

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