Utilities must step out of their comfort zone in 2016

The energy sector is changing like never before. That’s ultimately good longer-term for consumers seeking more sustainable, more personable and more affordable power. Yet to get to this nirvana of a truly smarter grid sooner than later, utilities must step out of their comfort zone in 2016. 

The internet is all around us. Chances are as you read this article you are either plugged in or tapping into some kind of wireless device (hopefully over a secured network) from your charged laptop, tablet or smartphone. So it can be a large understatement to say that consumer access to the World Wide Web has truly evolved, and more importantly, so has the way consumers use energy. Yet, energy companies themselves have largely fallen short in their efforts to bridge the technology gap needed to protect, discover and distribute energy more efficiently. This is about to change in a very big way thanks to advances in software.

The software-led disruption that will aggressively power the utility of the future should only foster more willingness by power providers to explore new, unique, cross-industry alliances to help bridge these technology gaps I’m alluding to. This new dynamic or market shift will open the window of opportunity for:

1) Content marketing focused on clarity and education to help utilities more clearly explain their new verticals, products and services

2) Cybersecurity companies needed to protect an increasing digitalized smart grid that is more vulnerable to hacking

3) Enterprise content management platforms that can now store and share information in the cloud and the fog

4) Technology outfits focused on the Internet of Things (IoT) and smarter, more connected homes and cities of the future

This makes 2016 a huge year for utility companies to embrace technology in the post COP21 summit era. Why? Demand, demand, demand. Everyone wants something these days. Wall Street analysts are demanding innovation while scrutinizing margins and cash flow more than ever to determine true valuation during the present economic recovery. Likewise, government regulators, investors and customers alike are demanding better results, including increased power reliability in an era where climate change is knocking off power grids at alarming rates all over the country. Just look at the severe flooding right now in various states in the Midwest. 

As a result, utilities must not fear young energy startups. Rather, they must learn to think like one in today’s energy world which is experiencing a changing of the guard with higher demand for power and less reliance on foreign sources of oil.
— John Licata, CEO of Blue Phoenix Inc.

Therefore, simply selling kilowatts is really yesterday’s news. Utilities must consider offering consumers a more complete service-oriented approach which includes efficiency as part of a bundled service and helping consumers explore new ways to cut back on energy. I know that is a very different idea – I mean utilities selling less energy? However, new energy efficiency standards in buildings (see California; see New York) are creating the need for changes to the way our power is consumed. Also, climate change and digital-social interaction are collectively helping to transform the energy market while fostering new industrial subgroups like community solar, microgrids, energy intelligence, energy storage, electric/autonomous vehicles, connected homes and smart cities and much more. So utilities can’t just stand idle anymore and watch their consumers’ demand dynamic shift. 

Utilities quickly must act to seek new partner relationships, meet more stringent government environmental mandates and also must implement new technology-led programs that boost customer retention. I’ve said repeatedly this year that the next Facebook or Twitter will come from the energy world. This makes cross-sector partnerships in the energy sector a really big deal for 2016. 

If you are expecting cross-sector energy partnerships in areas other than what I mentioned above, drop me a line and let me know. I look forward to hearing from you. 

Happy New Year everyone! 

Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Intel Free Press