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Electrification, cyberterrorism and retiring energy workers: What’s facing utilities in 2020 and beyond

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Sabrina Cowden's picture
CEO Milepost Consulting, SPC

As CEO of Milepost, Sabrina leads her company's efforts to consult on strategy and engagement to help organizations adapt and thrive in a world challenged by environmental and social change.  She...

  • Member since 2019
  • 2 items added with 2,897 views
  • Jan 28, 2020 11:27 pm GMT

This item is part of the Special Issue - 2020-01 - Predictions & Trends, click here for more

It’s not a stretch to say that the energy sector has never been more dynamic. The expansion of energy production resources, the shift from internal combustion engines to electric cars and battery storage, the explosion of the information economy and its dependency on electricity are some of the virtually countless factors driving the energy sector’s transformation.

The ways in which utilities and other energy service providers are responding to these changes are indicating many trends and likelihoods, including the following:

  1. At long last, major upgrades to our energy grid
    In contrast to our transportation, communication and food systems, our energy grid hasn’t changed that much in the last 100 years. It’s grown larger, and we have added new sources of energy, but the ways in which we distribute and consume energy are largely the same they have always been. At the same time, demand is changing – and fast. Electrification is ballooning with increased penetration of electric vehicles, high-efficiency heat pumps, commercial appliances and personal electronic devices. Add to this the growing threat of cyberterrorism and grid vulnerability, and it’s clear we need to leverage technology to ensure that we have a grid that can continue to deliver the reliable energy we’ve come to expect, making us stronger and safer.
  2. Business not-as-usual at utilities
    In much the same way that our grid hasn’t changed, utilities have been slow to change the way they’ve operated since their founding. But a few are running their organizations differently, and they are winning – in higher customer satisfaction and improved communication, and in creating new opportunities to make lasting positive impact in the communities they serve. One way utilities are starting to break out of their molds is collaboration with non-traditional partners like healthcare providers, higher education and community organizers. They are tackling issues such as reducing the energy burden for low income customers and investigating the relationship between energy and health to achieve mutually beneficial goals. This year and beyond, utilities will also be taking a closer look at how they charge residential customers for electricity in an effort to stabilize revenues and grids. This includes time-of-use and demand-based rates.
  3. Greater support from utilities and energy providers for workforce development
    The rate of retiring energy contractors is outpacing the rate of new energy contractors, creating a not-too-distant future shortage of trained energy professionals. Utilities and energy providers are well positioned to lead the industry in stimulating a new generation of energy workers. Sudden demand is creating a special opportunity to attract greater diversity to the energy sector through targeted skill development and job training. By using advanced career guidance and aptitude measurement technology, such as YouScience, utilities and energy providers can identify and train workers from a wide variety of demographics. This will build workforce resiliency and provide stable, lucrative careers.
  4. Coal: So far out, it’s never coming back
    In its day, coal was an absolute necessity. Coal provided heat, electricity, jobs – and regrettably, pollution, carbon emissions and disease. In 2020, we have clear alternatives. These options are not only cleaner and better for human health, they are more cost effective. The risks and costs associated with coal no longer justify it as a competitive energy source. Existing coal plants will serve the sector for a time, but without question, coal’s days are numbered.

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With these changes come new opportunities: resource efficiency, improved environmental and health outcomes, new partnerships, enhanced utility customer engagement, and so on. We are excited to see how utilities leverage new technologies and techniques to better serve their customers and their communities. 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 29, 2020

The rate of retiring energy contractors is outpacing the rate of new energy contractors, creating a not-too-distant future shortage of trained energy professionals.

This would appear to be a trend that's been a long-time coming and doesn't happen all at once-- what are the factors that have developed this situation? Are utilities struggling to real in the new & young talent? Why hasn't there been a more consistent feeder in to replace retiring experts in the field?

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