SAN DIEGO—This is cool.
“Our customers can ping their own meter. If they have an outage they can figure out if the outage is our problem or if it’s something inside their home and they may have to call their electrician,” said Anne Pramaggiore, CEO of ComEd, the investor-owned utility serving the Chicago area.
“It saves them the frustration of having to go through our system to figure out what’s going on, and it saves us truck rolls.”
That’s just one example of a utility taking a consumer-centric focus as the industry adjusts to rapidly changing times.
That “new energy future” was the focus of a panel at the closing session of the 2017 NRECA annual meeting moderated by Martin Lowery, NRECA’s executive vice president, member and association relations.
Panelists agreed that safe, reliable and affordable service is still vital—but so are new concerns.
“Our customers have now lived through the digital age. They’re use to customized service. We largely still provide a one-size-fits-all product,” Pramaggiore told the March 1 session at the San Diego Convention Center.
Mike Howard, CEO of the Electric Power Research Institute, encouraged cooperative leaders to “step outside your comfort zone and try new ideas, innovate, and work with your members to come up with new, valued solutions.”
To those who might be skeptical, Howard offered these words of caution: “They’re going there with or without you. You want them to go there with you, and to that you’re going to have to lead.”
Electric co-ops are “already in a great position,” Howard said. “You’re a trusted supplier.”
Pramaggiore agreed, noting that cooperatives have a built-in advantage, being closer to their members than other industry players are to their customers.
Another area of concern among co-ops and other utilities is attracting the next generation workforce, but Howard and Pramaggiore said that doesn’t have to be the case—if you’ve adjusted your thinking for the changing times.
“There are people coming out of school now that see this industry as not the old industry of 20 and 30 years ago. It is becoming a cool factor. I’m hearing it every single day,” Howard said.
“There is a great opportunity to attract and retain the next generation of engineers, scientists, operations, back-office folks,” Howard added. “I’m bullish on what is ahead. I think it’s exciting.”
Michael W. Kahn is a staff writer at NRECA.