I had the privilege of speaking on Monday to executives at the EEI/AGA Customer Service Conference, the venue for US investor owned utility executives that handle customer service, customer call centers, benchmarking, meter reading, remittance processing, telephone centers, credit/collection, customer accounting, mail center operations, training, branch/business office operation, and other related areas.
My presentation was different than most in that I provided our perspective on the bigger picture of what’s going on in the world of utilities and how that impacts customer service.
I offered attendees my observation that, if it wasn’t for the need to address climate change issues we probably would not be having any of the discussions about smart metering or consumer energy management systems etc. at this conference. Think about it. In the 1990’s there was a view that deregulation efforts would be the catalyst/ change agent for utilities’ business and technology models. As it happened, only Texas, the United Kingdom, a few parts Europe and Australia have been the hotbeds of deregulated energy markets. Otherwise not much has really happened on that front.
Then, over the last several years though climate change emerged as the next great change agent. And addressing the climate change issue with renewable energy sources brings its own challenges.
I relayed to the AGA/EEI audience how, for instance, I was at a meeting a while back with US Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), the co-author of the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act which passed the U.S. Congress in 2009. Rep. Markey made the comment that it isn’t rocket science to build wind/solar farms, as he was trying to make the case that these power sources are fairly easy to construct (which is a contrast to coal, nuclear, gas or hydro plants).
But I think that many people miss the point that, while building wind/solar is comparatively easy, it is rocket science to manage all of this stuff, meaning the output of wind, solar, hydro, coal and gas electric plants. It is rocket science to match load from intermittent sources and ensure reliability. The smart energy ecosystem of the future, with its distributed generation sources and storage needs does require advanced computational capabilities to ensure that we keep the lights.
It was at this point in my presentation that I showed attendees several videos from Iconics (you can view these videos after you register at their site) which demonstrates through a series of animations how utilities will need business intelligence, analytics and visualization tools to manage all of the various resources and information flowing on the smart grid/smart energy ecosystem of the future. They are great videos that demonstrates the enormous complexities that utilities are being required to manage. Rep. Markey should take a look!
Also, I mentioned to AGA/EEI attendees that our recent survey of utility executives confirmed that distribution management is their most important concern right now, even surpassing smart metering, a finding which clearly demonstrates that the real challenge is managing all of this stuff as we move toward zero carbon energy sources at the distribution level. And just wait until electric vehicles become more prevalent!
Finally, in my address, I noted how, with the climate change concerns becoming ever more prevalent as a driver of industry change, Energy Technology Consumerization will likely be the next wave that pushes utilities and their relationship with the customers.
The ultimate factor to helping to address climate change will be changing consumers’ behavior. Our work shows that you have to create consumer solutions that impact the climate more than just easy, you almost have to make them transparent and integrated into our daily lives.
Its further evidence that, at Microsoft, we are committed to helping solve the tough societal problems such as health care, education and energy. These are things that we are thinking about and working on. – Jon C. Arnold