Mark Knight is a Principal Consultant at 1898 & Co., part of Burns & McDonnell. Bringing more than thirty years of experience, he is a thought leader and industry advisor. Mark is emeritus chair of the GridWise Architecture Council and is the Director of Projects for the Institute of Asset Management.
Tom Sloan is a recently retired twelve-term veteran of the Kansas Legislature and member of several federal agency and professional legislator organizations’ energy committees.
Public Utilities Fortnightly and the Electric Power Research Institute, as sponsor of the Fortnightly Top Innovators 2019 special issue, do an excellent job of identifying innovative leaders in the broadly defined electric industry. These, by and large, are individuals and work groups in large utilities and organizations, with adequate staffing and financial resources, a management commitment to innovation, and the financial ability to suffer failures while seeking success.
Innovation is a good culture to have but can be difficult to nurture. It is perhaps easier for large organizations to innovate because they can create culture changes within small groups, which for a small utility is difficult due to more limited staff numbers.
It is also interesting to consider how innovation development is evolving. Tom Flaherty wrote in the December 2019 Fortnightly about innovators within the large utility community and privately funded innovation centers across the United States. He is correct that there are several paths to innovation, but we address a different issue: How smaller utilities can utilize the output from innovation leaders.
W. Edward Deming said that innovation comes from the producer, not from the customer. Ideas may come from customers, but they are not the innovators. Yet the regulatory model for electricity supply generally does not incent utilities to innovate.