Electric Industry Gets a New Vibe
Steve Mitnick is Editor-in-Chief of Public Utilities Fortnightly and author of the book “Lines Down: How We Pay, Use, Value Grid Electricity Amid the Storm.”
We used to quote the exec that said he wanted his company to be tenth in everything. Let other utilities try that new technology, process or method.
We used to call ourselves Doug. It stood for dumb old utility guy, and portrayed a culture that was not dynamic and not diverse.
Made sense for an industry in which failure isn't an option. The lights must stay on. Can't take risks with safety.
Then this happens. Quite suddenly, in the last couple of years, the industry gets a new vibe. Sluggish is out. Dynamic is in, as is surprising diversity.
Execs are prioritizing innovation and personally driving it. Indeed, they're driving innovation innovatively. Aggressive recruiting of high-upside talent from all demographics. Partnering with the most inventive startups and labs. Incubators and contests to stir creativity internally.
Want proof that this is not your father's electricity industry? Public Utilities Fortnightly announces the Fortnightly Top Forty Innovators initiative. Then we ask leaders from utilities, associations, commissions, etc. to nominate their top innovators for the Top Forty issue this November.
And what happens? An incredible response. As many as a thousand nominations are heading our way by the October first deadline.
Any other year in my forty years in the industry, this simply doesn't happen. A top innovators initiative and issue? No way. A thousand nominations to recognize and celebrate the passion of top innovators? Again, no way.
There's a larger point here. We may receive a thousand nominations. But those thousand are just the tip of the iceberg.
There are evidently thousands of innovators in today's industry. And their numbers are swelling every month.
It will be tough enough for us to pick a top forty — those who are most advancing the public interest — among the far greater number of nominations. Consider how much tougher this will be next year and the year after, when we may receive two thousand nominations, maybe more.
We revere Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, George Westinghouse and Samuel Insull for how they made this industry. A hundred years from now, who among today's innovators will be similarly revered for remaking this industry?