Key takeaways from EEI... - Smart Energy Decisions

Commercial, Distributed Energy Resources, Industrial, Utilities, Commercial, Distributed Generation, Industrial, Sourcing Renewables  -  June 17, 2016 - By Amy Poszywak

EEI member companies tout 'culture shift' in utility efforts to help C&I customers

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It's not news that large commercial and industrial companies are more engaged with their energy consumption — both how much they're using and where it comes from — than ever before.
What is news, however, is entirely new rhetoric from the U.S. utility industry on how it plans to engage with those customers and increase services to meet their evolving needs. At the Edison Electric Institute's annual convention, which took place June 13 through June 15 in Chicago, key utility executives from across the country directly addressed criticism that the industry was slow to move on innovation and difficult to work with; in the same breath, most argued that a culture shift is already underway within the industry toward a more customer-focused business model.

Speaking during the closing session of the convention on June 15, EEI Vice Chairman Pat Vincent-Collawn, who serves as chairman, president and CEO of PNM Resources, reiterated what a number of other executives had said on the topic throughout numerous panels throughout the three-day event.

"What we've been really good at, as an industry, is telling our customers what they want. What we're now doing is listening to what our customers actually want," Vincent-Collawn said. "We're going to use innovation, balanced with clean, reliable, and affordable energy, to electrify our space."

The focus on innovation and customer needs also shaped the convention's numerous executive panels, many of which addressed the growth of renewable energy and grid-edge resources. On June 13, a panel of electric power company leaders examined how dynamic resources—such as distributed generation, storage, microgrids, and electric vehicle charging—are improving grid operations and benefiting customers.

"We are going to transform the industry by making partners out of our customers," said Innovari CEO and President Chris Hickman. "Thirty years from now, electric power companies will be the go-to industry for customers and community; we will be sought out and partnering with communities for success. Technology is coming as an avalanche. The edge of the grid will define us as industry for the next 30 years."

Renewable energy

The topic of how utilities can partner with their corporate customers to help them meet their renewable energy partnerships — which has, at times, created tension between utilities and companies that have aggressive renewable energy goals — had its own panel, "Energy Companies and Corporate America: "Forging Sustainability Partnerships," where top utility executives and Microsoft's Director of Renewable Energy Ken Davies hashed through a number of key issues areas.

"I think utilities, four or five years ago, specialized in telling the customer what was good for them. We weren't listening at all. The customer would come and ask us for something and we'd say, that's not the right thing, this other thing will cost you less. We always had this here's what’s best for you, because it will cost you less, and we hid behind either the regulator or the statutes in the various states to protect our franchise service territory," Lloyd Yates, executive vice president for market solutions at Duke Energy, said during that panel. "What you should be seeing, and what you’ll see from us now is a shift in our mindset in terms of how we think about our customers solutions. Tell us what you need, and we'll work together with you to try and facilitate that. I think that has been a significant cultural shift, in our utilities anyway, and probably in other utilities across the country."

That discussion came on the heels of a recently released white paper the Edison Electric Institute teamed up with corporate renewable energy advocacy groups to produce. The report, "Creating Renewable Energy Opportunities," came about from a recently formed partnership between EEI — which is the primary lobbying organization for investor-owned utilities — the World Wildlife Fund and the World Resources Institute, which they refer to as the "Utility-Corporate Buyer Collaborative Forum."

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