A growing movement to bring plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars to market has emerged, bolstered by the undeniable economic and national-security benefits that result from displacing gasoline...
As I leave the electric utility business after 28 years as an engineer and analyst I would like to relate some thoughts on what makes this business special, even as it gives way to competition. Let me offer some advice to "local" electric utilities on how to keep at bay the "Mega Marketers" and "PanElectrics" of the world, who will soon appear to romance away their customers. Keep your "home-field advantage." Capitalize on your traditional strengths and enduring relationships. These bonds represent a wealth of goodwill earned over years of working with customer communities. They will prove difficult to create anew should you choose to break entirely with the past.
The emphasis today calls for "benchmarking" (em comparing the financial and operating performance of electric utility companies against the real business world. Electric utilities also are trying out marketing and sales techniques that have proved successful for more consumer-oriented firms. However, to furnish electric power is not to sell Pepsi-Cola. Electric utilities must continue to think as public servants, even as they search the competitive market for new profit centers.
Accolades won in supporting local economies and serving the public should not be dismissed, but improved upon. There always will be paperwork to slash. Upgrades in technology arrive daily. Yes, new blood is healthy in any organization, but experience accumulated by loyal workers should not be treated as a scourge. These times demand a mixture of innovation and experience to carry out traditional roles in new ways.
Experienced employees represent a "home-field advantage" for local electric utilities. These employees can help maintain good relations with customers, even in the face of competition. Their
experience should not be taken for granted. More often than not, veteran employees should be pushed into service during times of crises, not discarded to meet cost-cutting goals.
Customers do not forget
The first responsibility is still to "keep the lights on." This job scores more points with customers than uplifting commercials or special offers of the latest gadgets. Every minute of a residential outage can lead to customers suffering in the dark and cold or losing meat in their freezers. A simple improvement like electronic ignition for home appliances can make reliability even more important to residential customers. A power outage may leave homeowners with no alternative but to cook over a fireplace or camp stove. It can mean lost production for a self-employed machine shop operator or lost wages for workers on tight budgets.
Customers tend to remember outages. Statistics cannot always measure the negative images that linger in the minds of customers. The electronic age has made every dip in voltage a major annoyance. The high cost of power interruptions has led some homeowners to compromise safety and the environment by turning to gasoline-fired generators. True or not, they sense a decline in reliability, especially with the downsizing of work crews.
However, keeping the lights on is not an easy task. Vast areas of the United States can go dark in a fraction of a second. Generation is operated farther from load centers. Transmission and distribution