It takes a village: building a strong energy future requires a coordinated, united front

Utilities and decision-makers need to work together for the future of utility customers.

Electrification comes from necessity. It’s an inherently reactive process: people settle in a certain area. They build homes and start businesses and begin to set down roots. A critical part of every settlement effort is energy, and so utilities react to provide the electricity and other services people need.

This reaction is a necessary and vital part of any utility. But no matter how adept the reaction, reacting instead of proactively preparing can have its shortfalls.

With many assets that survive for a century or longer, the gold standard for utilities today should be anticipating and proactively adjusting to the future. But it’s easier said than done as the world continues to change. Technology is rapidly evolving where and how people live and work. People and environments continue to behave, migrate and settle in ways we would never have anticipated 100 years ago.

The decarbonization of the economy, and in many areas, decentralization of electrical generation and storage, is propelling us towards a paradigm shift in the expectations of customers, regulators, shareholders and other involved in the utility world. For utilities without reliable, base load renewable energy sources such as hydropower, the increasing use of intermittent renewable such as solar and wind is also a factor.

Many energy utilities find themselves chasing the growth of municipalities and settlements as they develop. The ongoing trend towards electrification of transportation alone is forcing utilities to re-examine how they plan, build and operate not just generation and transmission facilities, but indeed their distribution systems right to the customer’s door. Knowing how to plan and manage assets to deliver the right product, at the right time, to the right place is both an art and a science. Most utilities have large teams devoted to building, operating and maintaining assets to keep up with the fluid changes that come with the growth of a city or community, the rapidly advancing expectations of customers, and evolving digital technologies. Effective asset management has become absolutely critical for energy utilities in today’s world.

But asset planning and management cannot happen in a vacuum. It’s increasingly critical that utilities work with their customers, regulators and each other to share strategies, best practices, and knowledge to ensure an efficient, reliable energy future that works for everyone – and for the planet. Asset management strategies must be informed by current and future needs of a utility’s customers and developed in tandem with government, regulators, RTOs and industry organizations and associations.

The needs of utilities around the world depend on the needs of their customers, but those needs are both immediate and future. As an essential service provider, energy providers have a responsibility to multiple stakeholders. Cooperative processes between regulatory bodies and utilities, combined with ongoing cooperative discussion on energy policy, are crucial to ensure the most efficient planning going forward. Planning effectively and efficiently means lower costs for customers, better service, enhanced reliability, and better relationships with all stakeholders.

As the energy landscape and technology continues to change, those in positions to make decisions about utility planning, operations, governance and regulation are uniquely positioned with an opportunity to create a better energy future for all.

For over a century, utilities around the world have strived to provide reliable, affordable to service to customers. While the process may change, and the energy sources and ancillary services are certainly different than 100 years ago, that overarching objective remains: keep the lights on, and ensure we continue to meet the needs of customers today and well into the future. And working together in a coordinated, united approach will help ensure we all achieve that shared objective.