Why Creating a Sustainable Energy Future Must Be a Collaborative Effort
- Sep 12, 2019 11:54 am GMT
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Big businesses, public utilities, and governments around the world all have the same question: How do we create a sustainable energy future? A network called REN21 — an international policy collective linked to industry associations, NGOs, academic institutions, and government agencies — intends to find solutions.
As part of its ongoing efforts, the group’s members post free reports online to inform policymakers and illuminate important issues. This collaborative approach allows everyone who's involved to make a meaningful impact on global energy policy. For that reason (and others), utility companies grappling with the same reality should work to form similar collaborations.
Powering Our Future
The energy challenges we face are beyond the control of any one company or organization. Diversity of thought and experience helps get to the heart of the matter because it dissuades the temptation to apply groupthink to already complex issues.
The sheer number of variables that affect our planet’s climate and ecosystems span every category of human expertise, and any viable solution must account for all of them. The U.S. is a world leader in developing renewable power generation and renewable technologies, and the proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources continues to rise every year.
A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report revealed that most utility providers feel unprepared to keep up with dramatic shifts in consumer demands and ongoing digital disruption. A greater emphasis on collaboration is critical if we’re to successfully meet the urgent need for energy security and reduced emissions.
Where We Are Now
Most U.S. utility companies agree that increasing the power grid's renewable energy carrying capacity benefits everyone. Many are now focused on efficient electrification and reducing the transportation sector's carbon footprint — easily the country's largest source of energy consumption. Renewable energy's growing popularity coupled with the electrification of American transportation could reduce the U.S.'s carbon footprint while making a significant dent in global carbon emissions.
Success, however, requires these power companies to proactively collaborate. Ameren Accelerator, for example, is a partnership between Ameren Corporation, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Capital Innovators. The accelerator empowers experts from a number of different fields to collaborate on energy-related problems in the same vein as REN21.
It's part of an ongoing effort to be more proactive about dealing with an industry that’s rapidly changing. With the abundance of decentralized generation and people moving off the grid, the challenge for utilities will be maintaining reliability and scalability while reacting to countless changes.
Collaboration helps utility providers get in front of these problems. To do it properly, keep these four principles in mind:
1. Identify your customers' core problems. Most power companies serve a range of different customer segments. To better serve these verticals, every company should invest a significant amount of time into thinking about what individual customers need and how those needs vary across segments.
Is your base low- to moderate-income families that want to reduce their monthly power spending? Are you serving Earth-conscious people who want to minimize their individual carbon footprints? Maybe it’s both.
They could be motivated by finances, comfort and convenience, or choice and control. No matter what drives them, don’t try to solve everything at once. Try to solve the biggest problems facing your customers.
2. Align community interests. As a business, you have your own objectives. Opportunity lies at the intersection of those objectives and customer needs. Often, this is also an intersection of value and values.
If you have a diverse group of people working on a challenge, you can get more insight into what different groups of people truly value. Working with its partners, Ameren discovered what was important to students, local startup founders, city officials, and customers in metropolitan St. Louis. Those insights helped Ameren devise solutions that incorporate these various perspectives into one user experience.
3. Don’t wait to get started. In the startup world, there’s a huge emphasis on launching with a minimum viable product, or MVP, and iterating as the market provides feedback. Because the energy landscape is changing so fast, utilities must adopt a similar approach.
If you’re able to come up with a hypothesis about who your customers are and the problems they face, you have a foundation for your MVP. Rather than working on a single perfect solution, start prototyping ideas and testing them. When tackling complex problems, failure often is inevitable. But if you start by working on a smaller scale, that same failure will never be catastrophic.
4. Be patient with results. Creating a sustainable energy future will be a process of evolution — not a revolution. Patiently engaging is the only way forward, and utilities are quite good at that. In many ways, this approach is encouraged by our regulatory process.
If you encounter a solution that has potential, take a long-term view and work to expand on it gradually. Set clear metrics and benchmarks, and work toward those. Over time, everyone will reap the rewards.
Collaboration represents a brave new world for utility companies, but it doesn't have to spark anxiety. Partnerships help utilities continue to experiment and grow, which will help them remain relevant in the evolving energy landscape.