Transforming the UK’s energy landscape – and building a greener future
Switch your energy contract to a renewable supplier. Recycle the household waste. Walk and shop local. Eat less meat. Fly less often.
There is much that every UK household can do to help the country meet its ambitious target of becoming carbon net-zero by 2050. But there are some things that can only be done at a national level. Diversifying our energy supply is one.
Opening up the UK’s energy grid to new suppliers is arguably the greatest incentive to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. And it’s working. In 2019 the UK experienced the cleanest year on record. For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, the amount of zero-carbon power outstripped that generated from fossil fuels.
More and more renewable power is connected to the electricity network. The UK needs a blend of large and smaller, more local suppliers to complement the energy mix. Yet connecting to the electricity network is complex for these new players. If the UK can reduce this complexity and demonstrate a quicker time-to-value for suppliers, the pace of change may accelerate.
“Over the past three years alone we have seen a four-fold increase in requests to connect, mainly from renewable and green sources like solar, wind, and battery” said Dave Adkins, Head of ConnectNow, National Grid. “But it also throws up challenges for an engineering business traditionally used to connecting huge gas, coal, and nuclear power stations. The process is full of detailed specifications, detailed language, and pages and pages of rules.”
ConnectNow is part of National Grid’s continued work to simplify this process. It aims to streamline the process of onboarding new connections through a single portal delivering an end-to-end experience. This portal is built on Salesforce Sales Cloud and Community Cloud.
Creating a different mindset, with an iterative approach to design
National Grid recognised that the diversity of its new customers – customers that are literally linked to the grid, would change the very nature of its service posture. From being seen as a conservative, albeit reliable operator, this always-on engagement would require National Grid to be dynamic and proactive.
“We knew ConnectNow would require a different mindset,” said Richard Wiles, Digital Architect, National Grid. “We wanted to be faster and more iterative in our development approach quicker to absorb feedback and quicker to make improvements.”
Salesforce enabled National Grid to deliver the first stage of ConnectNow in just five weeks.
“With such customer diversity, the only way we could produce ConnectNow was by putting something in front of people every four to five weeks. We needed rapid development cycles,” explained Wiles. “Salesforce gives us native web standards and a really rich developer experience. It means the distance from sandbox to production is much shorter.”
At some points, Wiles continued, his team was releasing new versions every three days with 10-15 customers giving live feedback: “Salesforce enabled us to work very closely on the production code, with real data loaded in, and almost-live feedback. We were doing in five weeks what would usually have taken five months.”
Improving design through a direct response to customer feedback
ConnectNow went live in September 2020. In the first phase 240, mostly historic, customers were onboarded. By May 2021 National Grid expects all new connections to be managed entirely through ConnectNow.
The portal provides transparency across the connection process, allowing customers to view milestones along the way. Customers can check their application progress or a breakdown of their finances in real-time.
It is the product of more than 200 hours of customer interviews. As a consequence of being able to demonstrate it was not just listening but acting upon these interactions, National Grid’s customer satisfaction scores have risen from 7.6 to 8.35.
“ConnectNow draws its information from Sales Cloud and the Product Portfolio and Project Management tools. It establishes a single source of truth,” said Wiles. “This allowed us to develop a scalable, componentised architecture for the customer portal which focuses heavily on providing the best digital experience to customers.”
It also delivers a productivity boost: it is quicker and easier for National Grid to identify viable connections and speculative enquiries. “It means we can spend more time with potential customers and less time chasing enquiries that would go nowhere,” Wiles explained.
The portal launched without a hitch, he added, and was developed by teams working entirely remotely. “For a launch of this significance there’s been very little noise or drama. It hasn’t required a great deal of upkeep or maintenance. As an engineer, I take personal pride in producing a stable, scalable piece of development.”