Professor Peter Navarro, who teaches economics and public policy at the University of California at Irvine, writes in the Harvard Business Review (January-February 1996) that "[t]he deregulation of the electric utility industry represents an important opportunity to enhance the country's competitiveness and improve the standard of living for its citizens. ...
On a bookshelf behind my desk I've stacked up a few older issues of PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY. Some of them go back more than a half-century. Every so often I pull down a copy to see if I can learn anything from history.
Yes, the advertisements appear quaint (Royal typewriters; IBM punch-card machines; Ditto-brand duplicators). But some of the ideas still have legs, with lively quotations from the likes of Louis Brandeis, Harold Ickes, Walter Lippmann, and Fiorello La Guardia.
Northern Indiana Public Service Co. (NIPSCO) and IBM have developed the Integrity/Customer Services System, which provides any customer service with one telephone call. Customer questions that previously required several transfers will now be handled by a single representative who has access to billing, service, and repair information. Property owners with several buildings or several tenants at one building will receive a combined bill, rather than separate bills for each meter.
jü( )l, n: A unit of energy measurement equal to a watt-second.
San Diego Gas & Electric signed a power-sales contract with Salt River Project (SRP) for 100 Mw of firm capacity and energy for 1996. SRP will gross about $12 million from the sale.
A Siemens Power generation research team claims a new world record in high-temperature, solid-oxide fuel cells for use in power generation plants. The team achieved an output of 10.7 Kw, operating on hydrogen and oxygen at 950°C.
IT has become strategic. And important. So important that utility companies are seeking outside expertise to help them leverage technology to conduct business more efficiently, help grow revenues, and hone their edge in the new competitive world. Time has become an unaffordable luxury.
Current utility marketing efforts focus almost entirely on large customers or "key" accounts, responding reactively to competitive threats such as self-generation, municipalization, and even geographic relocation. These threats have become all too real for many utilities. Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. has lost 15 percent of its large industrial load in the last 15 years. The recently negotiated long-term power contracts between Detroit Edison and the Big Three automakers are a conscious response to the looming threat of retail wheeling.
Imagine you're the principal energy buyer for a national chain of managed health care centers, with a $200-million annual energy tab. Top management asks you to assess how the chain can cut its energy bills.
You turn to your local electric and gas utility, which talks a lot about customer service, but doesn't have much to show for it yet.
Everybody's talking about electric utilities dabbling in telecommunications. That's fine. But how about vice versa? Maybe what we've really got is telephone companies (and cable television, too) getting into energy. That's different.
A TRANSFORMING EVENT
Retail sales of gas and electricity run about $300 billion a year. The deregulation of energy production, wholesale logistics, and bulk consumption has brought competition to about 40 to 45 percent of the value chain from wellhead and busbar to the retail meter.
Public Service Co. of Colorado (PSCC) and IBM have announced a strategic alliance. IBM's subsidiary, Integrated Systems Solutions Corp. (ISSC), and a new PSCC subsidiary, e prime, will develop and deliver new information technology applications to improve utility customer service. E prime's first project will be to help IBM develop a natural gas procurement strategy to reduce energy costs and improve the quality and reliability of its energy services. ISSC will manage most of PSCC's information technology systems and network infrastructure.