Calling himself the “world’s greatest consumer,” utility watchdog Michael Shames helped in 1981 to create the Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN), where he has served as executive director...
CEO FORUM: Dealing with Disruption
Leaders adapt to strategic shifts in the utility landscape.
First and foremost, it’s about leveraging communications technology, whether it’s our Web site or Facebook or Twitter or texting, we use all the newest ways to get information into our customers’ hands. We’re trying to keep pace with the times. Were not just the utility that delivers electricity, but also we provide options that customers can use to take control of their energy use. There’s no silver-bullet approach to communicating that. It requires various programs and incentives and communication tools to get as many customers engaged as you can.
Weston, Direct Energy: The way you maximize engagement with customers is by putting in place an environment that encourages innovation. I would argue that’s best done in a competitive market. I’m surprised that this concept is a bit of an anathema here in the ’States. Why is telecom so different from energy? We’ll get more customer engagement if we can move toward a competitive platform.
Also we need infrastructure to be based on common standards and open protocols, so technology can’t be used as a walled garden. We are very committed to open protocols, something everyone can understand and build upon. It mustn’t be proprietary as telecoms tried to do with the Internet. That’s how you start the process of innovation and engagement with customers.
Fortnightly: How would you characterize the outlook for electric vehicles over the next five or 10 years?
Boston, PJM: We believe electric vehicles are a key answer for the nation’s future, in terms of benefits for customers and the power system, as well as national security issues regarding imported oil.
Burke, TXU Energy: It’s not clear what the rate of adoption will be. We’ve seen a wide range of predictions. I think EVs will be an exciting and significant development.
We have a number of competitors who are actively studying the opportunity on EVs, and whether it’s going to be a product or service the customer is interested in. The issues affecting EVs will have to be worked through before customers are inherently comfortable. When they are, then it will be a competitive opportunity we need to jump on as a service provider.
As a policy matter, Texas has a terrific landscape to make this happen. Not only are we getting the interface technology installed, but also we have a lot of commuters, and we have urban air-quality issues with NOx and VOCs. EVs can be a solution for those issues. When you combine all that with our high nighttime supply of wind energy, you see that EVs could develop faster in Texas than anywhere else in the country.
Weston, Direct Energy: EVs will be out there in increasing numbers. I think you’ll start to see a meaningful impact in about 10 years. If you look at the battery technology and what it will take to get mainstream acceptance, that’s about 10 years out from where we are now. It’s some way off at the moment, so we have a bit of time to plan.
Fortnightly: What does