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Episode #101: 'Disrupting Energy with an Entrepreneurial Perspective' with Bill Nussey [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast]

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The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. At least twice monthly, we connect with an Energy Central Power Industry...

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  • Oct 25, 2022

The utility sector has a reputation over its history for being somewhat insular: common ways of thinking persist and radical changes to the status quo are met with resistance and take some amount of time to be embraced. Fortunately, that reputation is finally falling as the various revolutions across the power industry are being embraced: digitalization, clean energy, and more.



Today's guest on the podcast, though, entered the energy industry from a complete outsider's perspective to identify where the sector could be most suitably and impactfully disrupted. Seeing the need for the clean energy transition and thinking about what that would mean for the future of energy, Bill Nussey set out to interview hundreds of people in the sector and publish a book on what he learned, titled Freeing Energy. Now, Bill joins podcast host Jason Price and producer Matt Chester to share the lessons surrounding the two D's he sees as critical to the energy industry of tomorrow: Distributed and Disruptive.

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Thanks to the sponsor of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West Monroe.  

Key Links
Bill Nussey's Energy Central Profile: https://energycentral.com/member/profile/bill-nussey

Freeing Energy: https://www.freeingenergy.com/

Did you know? The Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast has been identified as one of the industry's 'Top 25 Energy Podcasts': https://blog.feedspot.com/energy_podcasts/



Jason Price: 

Hello and welcome once again to the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast, the show where we bring in leading voices in the world of power and utilities to discuss the latest challenges in trends transforming and modernizing the energy system and the utility of the future. And a quick thank you to West Monroe, our sponsor of today's show. Now let's talk energy.

I'm Jason Price, Energy Central podcast host and director with West Monroe. Coming to you from New York City and with me as always, from Orlando, Florida is Energy Central producer and community manager, Matt Chester. Matt, typically our guests to the podcast are high ranking insiders in the power sector. These are CEOs, VPs, and directors who can give us their esteemed views as they navigate the ever-changing power sector and set up the industry for the years to come. Occasionally though, we get to hear unique voices from outside the power companies who offer new perspectives unrestrained by the traditional approaches of utilities or the built in ways things are done. So I'm excited to say that today's episode is an example of the latter. Are you ready for this different point of view, Matt?


Matt Chester: 

Absolutely, Jason. At Energy Central, we're a platform built for utility professionals to share with other utility professionals everything they have going on, their concerns on the horizons, successes and challenges, and all that good stuff. And we truly value that community of utility leaders we've built. But it would be arrogant to think that as a community of utility experts that we couldn't learn something from somebody coming from an outside perspective, outside the traditional realm to maybe shake up our status quo way of thinking. So I find that to be just an exciting prospect and I'm amped up for today's guest to do just that for us.


Jason Price: 

Yeah, absolutely. Agreed. So today's guest is Bill Nussey, a career tech and entrepreneur. Bill is the type of person you can say has done it all with a CV that's impressively bounced across various types of companies he started and run, including software, venture capital, eCommerce. cloud-based solutions, and more. And in his wide ranging experience though, he came to realize that clean energy was the most interesting business to emerge in our lifetime. And so now he's gone all in on learning about the ongoing transition and providing his trademark problem solving skills and unique perspectives in trying to advance that conversation. In fact, one of the first things he did when deciding to go all in on clean energy, he interviewed over 400 people across the sector and published a book on what he learned. So Bill Nussey is author of Freeing Energy, host of the Freeing Energy podcast and Perpetual Entrepreneur looking to apply the lessons he's learned in energy to disrupt the power industry from the outside in. So we're thrilled to have him with us. So without further ado, Bill Nussey, welcome to the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast.


Bill Nussey: 

Well, thank you very much for having me. I'm really excited about this conversation. I think it's going to be meaty and I think I'm going to walk away learning a lot as well. So thanks again for having me.


Jason Price: 

Absolutely. And we're thankful that you are making time for us and sharing your wisdom to our audience. So Bill, let's start digging into things. So we get a rare chance to talk to someone who hasn't come from the utility sector, given that power perspectives is really geared towards the utility industry and the audience comes from the industry inside. But instead of looking at the outside and even changes of the power from the outside, take us to the top of the conversation. Tell us a bit about your book that you published, the impetus of the conversations that you've started. What is the elevator pitch that you typically give when you meet people in the industry? And most importantly, where can we find your book?


Bill Nussey: 

Well, the book's called Freeing Energy, and you can get it at any bookstore. Your local bookstore will order it for you. You can get it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, just about everywhere. We even have a Japanese version for anyone who likes to read it in that language. But really the book is a deeply researched project that talks about the disruptive rise of distributed energy resources, DERs. And the part that I found surprising and many people who read it from within the industry kind of struggle with, but also ultimately everyone I've had the chance to talk to that's read it, come around to seeing it, is that the ascension of DERs is going to be much faster and it's going to be much broader than virtually any expert who is inside or even outside the industry looking at it is seeing. And I try to make the case pretty boldly and pretty supported with math and non-controversial data sets.


Jason Price: 

That's great. And now before we dive into the content of your ideas, I just want to fill out the context for audience. So can you give us a view of how the utilities caught your attention as an entrepreneur and author, and why do you think that outsiders perspective you bring is so important?


Bill Nussey: 

Well, I sold the company I was running, it was a marketing tech company, and I sold it to IBM, and the day that I was announcing the deal, we had interviews with the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, and the IBM executives and I were in a room and I stepped outside for just a minute because I wanted to be by myself and take a mental, I guess an emotional snapshot of what an amazing opportunity it was, how fortunate I was to be there. And as I sat there and reflected for a few seconds, I thought to myself, I could do anything I want now. I could retire, I could become an investor, but I was quickly overwhelmed with the sense, not expecting it, that holy cow, there are people all over the world devoting their lives to causes bigger than themselves who don't have the experience I have or the network or the resources, and yet they were doing it. How could I live my life doing anything less?

So I started a process of thinking about where I wanted to apply my skills to this next chapter in my career. And I wanted to do three things. I was looking to find something that would make a real difference for the future of the planet, for my children and grandchildren, but I also wanted to do something that would make a difference for the billion, 2 billion people that have so little access to resources, particularly energy that their lives were so far below their potential. And then finally, I wanted to be part of, as I'd been through my whole career, part of a massive disruption, something that was going to turn the outside in and the inside out and create economic opportunities and generally make the world a better place. And through my work, I found that electricity was the singular component that would accomplish all those things, or clean electricity was a singular component.

And so as I got into it, I realized that this is a highly regulated industry and we'll talk about that. And I wasn't sure this is something I could participate in. And it was clear that we absolutely need utilities. They are central to the tremendous success and impact that electricity's had on the human condition, society is built on it really. But also I started to realize the roles had to change and in some ways they may be quite resistant to the changes that are coming. And I think the reason that an outsider can lend credence, and maybe even a tad bit of insight, is that well, frankly, every large transition in the history of business and in society has always come from outsiders. And when you have an incumbent industry like the electric utilities, it's kind of easy to forget that. And we'll talk more about some of the specific industries that have changed from the outside in.

But if you look at large incumbent industries in years past, media, communications, transportation, even say the coal industry, they have all been completely disrupted by technologies that came from outside the industry. The big difference here, and one of the key takeaways from my book is that this is the first disruption in the history of energy. And I mean electricity, I mean hydrocarbons, I mean coal. This is the first disruption that does not rely on economies of scale to succeed. And this is a really big point, we can talk about it, but if you're a fan of Vaclav Smil like I am and his 75 years for transition, what he assumes is that every one of those transitions has happened because of economies of scale.

And we are facing an energy situation now with solar and batteries that do not require scale to work. And the simple truth in one of the main points in my book is that solar and batteries are technologies not fuels. That is one of the reasons this is going to be a disruption rather than an orderly transition. And this is one of the most exciting disruptions I'd ever seen. It's the largest industry in the world. And having spent 30 years in tech, this was something I just had to go do. So I threw away my tech spurs and jumped into the clean energy industry a few years ago.


Jason Price: 

Good. So I want to dig a little bit further into that. So one of the conclusions from your book is that you are forecasting this type of outside driven revolution in the power sector and simply drawing some parallels to the tech related industry, which you alluded to earlier. So can you give us an example of how you see this potentially playing out? And aren't there key differences in the utility industry that challenge the conclusion you're making, specifically like energy is a regulated business as opposed to other sectors. So talk to us about that.


Bill Nussey: 

Yeah, again, I want to reiterate that electric energy is an essential service. We can't live without it. And electric utilities, in some form or another, are an absolutely central unchangeable part of any energy future we have. But I have interviewed probably 50, 60 electric utility executives throughout the course of writing the book and probably twice as many experts, academics and analysts and researchers. And the point you made comes up all the time, this is not like other industries, this isn't like, say movies, where you can add a digital panache and then next thing you have Netflix and you're disrupting the industry. So they would tell me that it's completely unique, it's regulated, it's essential. And my research and my comeback is that it isn't remotely unique. AT&T was the largest regulated monopoly in history. Taxis were typically highly state regulated, city regulated, in the years past.

And this regulated nature is no match for the fact that oil and gas companies are going to come into the electricity space. It's a tough place to be for utilities right now. Most don't see it, that I talk to at least. And they've got it coming from the outside, from small fast moving starts, which is the focus of my book, and they've got it coming from the largest, most powerful energy industry in the world, which is oil and gas. But let me give you specific examples. So let's go back to the eighties and look AT&T. Now this was the largest regulated monopoly in history and people blow off the, or they ignore, or just wave their hand at the analogies and the lessons learned, but they're incredibly applicable actually. So in 1976, the CEO of AT&T at the time, Martin Debutz, he gave a speech and he said that if they lose their monopoly, the consequences will be terrible.

If you add third party devices to the network, it's going to become unstable and telephony will no longer work. And famously he said to a large audience that if you take away our monopoly, it's going to create this thing called cost shifting. And what it's going to mean is that if you allow people to compete with us, they're going to pick off the juiciest parts of the economics and we're going to be stuck with the expensive part and that's going to force us to keep lots of extra costs to maintain the network on top of the lowest income customers, the people that can least appreciate or at least afford it. And a lot of the folks listening in are going to know this is exactly the same argument that utilities are making today, is that cost shifting is a reason to stop the quick growth of DERs. And this, again, this was used 40, 50 years ago.

And you know what happened? He was right. They did start letting competition happen when the government forced their hand. The changes happened, the prices went up for a little bit for a while. But then something else really interesting happened. For the first time people could compete in communications and they started inventing these things, modems, internet, they started creating new services and they could do it in the garages as famously as Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs did to create Apple because it didn't require billions of dollars of capital and government oversight to act anymore. Led straight line to the creation of the internet for consumers and businesses. And it led straight line to modern mobile phones. And I don't think any business historian could look back and say, "Had AT&T maintained a monopoly that we would still have affordable internet and mobile phones." And I'm not saying we'll unleash the same degree of innovation, as we ultimately make electricity more competitive, but I am saying that it's impossible to predict the upside.

And virtually everyone who fights this change is only focused on the downside. Well, let me give you one more example, which is even more recent. Most people know that if you went into a large city, there were taxis, yellow cabs, they were regulated, they have medallions. And along came this crazy thing called Uber. And in many cities, most cities, the taxi lobby came and said, "Listen, we got to stop this. You cannot let Uber in here. You can't control the quality. How in the world could you possibly let some random person drive a stranger in their car?" I mean, no one's going to do that, right? And so all these arguments happen and the echoes with what the utilities are saying today are so relevant and yet ultimately, through some bad actions in the case of the Uber and Lyft, but they ultimately prevailed. And the reason they prevailed, and this is a key point to get across, is they prevailed because consumers wanted it.

In the end, all the lobbying, all the regulated protection that taxis enjoyed just fell city after city because consumers said Uber is cheaper, the quality of the service is better and I want it. And in the end, voters won out over lobbies. And the funny thing is, you went from 2015, you had maybe 60,000 Uber rides a day, just before the pandemic it was up to 750,000 rides a day. And it actually eclipsed the entire tax industry, which shrunk a little bit, but what it did was make the market that much larger for taxis.

So I share all this just because when we think about electricity and isolation and the arguments come out that it's different, it's special, it doesn't, it's not like other disruptive industries, it's actually exactly like other disruptive industries. And like taxis and like long distance telephony. At some point it will change because people will demand it. And the question is, will the utilities be the winners in this transition or will they be the losers? Will they be the hot new companies that are reshaping the future? Are they going to be like AT&T? Which essentially became almost irrelevant until it completely reinvented itself under pressure. I don't know. That's the point I love to get across in debate with folks because it isn't that unique.


Jason Price: 

Okay. Well, you've done a lot of research in this area, you've even written a book, how about this? Can you give us, say, the cliff nodes version of what you're seeing is needed to change and how you've come to those conclusions?


Bill Nussey: 

It's pretty straightforward and it doesn't have to be too prescriptive. DERs are coming and they're coming very fast and the electric utility industry is struggling with them. Most of them don't have the balancing models to take into account the intermittency from all these distributed systems. They don't have the economic models. The regulators aren't in any way prepared to deal with the shifts in pricing that are necessary, and that the new tariffs. I think there's a general consensus, and I don't agree with it, but there's a general consensus that well, we'll just figure it out over time. And history says that's not going to happen. History says that consumers are going to realize, voters are going to realize, that they can cut their electricity bills by half, they can have the resiliency when they see what's happening in Florida and Puerto Rico and California and Texas, they're going to say, "Look, I don't want to be exposed to that kind of disruption and I can spend less money and be protected."

This is not something that even the most powerful lobbies are going to be able to stop. So I think there's a reckoning coming and I do believe that it's going to happen because there's a few utilities, some small ones, and some cases, a few large ones that see this coming, understand it, and they're going to prove to the rest who are more reluctant that there is in fact a model. And Peter Fox-Penner, one of my favorite thinkers in the space and his recent book, he talks about how this is going to play out. It will work, but it will not be painless.


Jason Price: 

And much of your writing you do talk about the two key Ds, right? Distributed and disruption. So with distributed energy, it's certainly something that's been around for a long time. DER has been in the market for, since solar panels became a commercial product. It's not a particularly radical idea at this point. So how are your ideas really being disruptive in any different from where we are today?


Bill Nussey: 

Well, think about the definition of a disruption. It's a term like innovation that's thrown around and such degree people don't even really know what it means anymore. But technically what a disruption means is that the industry changes faster than the incumbents are ready for. And that's the difference between an evolution or an evolving industry and one that's being disrupted. And the thesis I have, and I think is supported by years of research and strategic analysis and economic analysis, say that the DERs, or what I call local energy in the book, are going to happen faster than utilities are prepared for. The other very interesting, the definition of disruption is that it's when incumbent power is displaced or even replaced by outsiders. And that's a really big deal. And that's also something that I think regulators and utilities don't really understand. What's happening is that crazy innovators, naive, just starry eyed have no idea what they're doing.

Entrepreneurs and others are coming into the industry with ideas that are crazy and probably are going to fail like mad. And so they are being widely dismissed. But that perspective fails to understand how innovation happens. All you need, of the thousands of new startups happening is you need only a half dozen to work and they will disrupt the industry. There's lots of rides sharing companies. Uber's the one that got it right and then Lyft behind them. But there was many, many, there was many social networks before Facebook came along. Many search engines before Google came along. In my book I talk about 20 search engines that happened before Google came along. And so the thing that the utilities and regulators are missing is that we only need a couple of these companies to succeed to effectively disrupt a couple of these startup companies to succeed, to disrupt the industry.

And let me give you a sense of what's coming. So in 2012, all venture capital invested in electric vehicles and in energy, which is 80% of energy and venture capital is electricity based. There's about five billion dollars in 2012. In 2022, there will be about 175 billion dollars of venture capital coming into that industry. And the scale of innovation, the increasing readiness of these people. Listen, you can look back at 2011 when all this clean tech stuff crashed and just say, "Listen, they don't know what they're doing." But that just completely misses the point that they're 10 times smarter now. They understand naivete that caused so many of these clean tech companies to start in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and fail. They've learned the lessons, they've come back, they're smarter, the investors are smarter. This 175 billion dollars this year, it's going to be 300 billion in a few years. And we're starting to talk about more investment taking place in the size of the industry.

This is going to make a change. And it's hard to predict exactly where, my book takes a lot of shots at where the innovation's going to come from, where the disruption will come from. But one crazy thing about this is that while people like me are focusing on venture capital and startups and innovators and scientists and engineers and garages, the oil industry, and I mean oil and gas is entering the fight of their life, this is a four trillion dollar a year industry and no one less than the number two person at Shell has said, We are going to enter the electricity industry and we are going to dominate it. The average oil company is 10 times larger in revenue than the largest electricity, electric monopoly in the US. And the electric monopolies have enjoyed a century of very little or zero competition. The oil industry has been in ruthless geopolitical wars competition.

They eat competition for breakfast. And I don't think anyone in the utility industry has stepped back to realize that the most ruthless, well-funded, deepest balance sheet industry in the history of the human species is coming at them. And so while my book doesn't focus on that angle of it, my punchline is that the utility industry is facing a reckoning and a change from all sides that I think it doesn't yet see. And I hope that it does because it would be bad for everyone if the result was a broken industry. We don't want outages, we don't want these large iconic companies to go bankrupt, but they really need to open their eyes. And that's one of the points in my book.


Jason Price: 

It certainly is compelling. So on power perspectives, we've had a number of discussions around disruption and everything you've been saying is particularly the parallels on in other industries in the past that you've drawn from, I think, are equally compelling. And I think you're somewhat alluding to my next question, which is really around the timing. So why exactly, you convey this in the book and you're conveying it now and your writings, why exactly is now the time that you see the shift in roles being so possible?


Bill Nussey: 

Starting around 2018 or 2019, one of the largest changes in the industry of energy happened. And I don't remember there being a single article on it, there was probably a couple dozen, but I don't remember any really gigantic eye opening, everyone talking about it kind of insights. But what happened two or three years ago was that on average in the United States, it became cheaper to generate electricity from your roof than it did to buy it from the grid. And so we went from a couple hundred thousand rooftop solar installations to probably approaching 4 million right Now, everyone listening knows that with the IRA law passed, while it's largely focused on large scale systems, it will also absolutely accelerate small scale systems. In particular when you build these small scale systems in low income communities and energy communities, which lend themselves nicely to the small scale systems, the economic incentives that carrots, so to speak, are so large, it's just transformative and it's disruptive.

So I think what has passed by most electric utilities is that it just got cheaper. And this reminds me of one of my favorite conversations with a top five person at one of the biggest electric utilities in the United States. And he knew what I was writing about and I was very grateful. He spent some time with me on the phone and agreed to be interviewed anonymously. I can't say his name, but he said, "Listen Bill, I'm fine if consumers and residentials and businesses, they want to do their part to make, help the environment and put solar on the rooftop, I get that. And if that's what they want to do, more power to them, right? Every little bit helps. But I'm a dollars and cents guy, Bill, and it's extremely straightforward and the numbers are known to everybody." If we build a very large solar plant outside the utility to build it, it's a fraction of the cost than it is to build it on a rooftop.

And those numbers are why rooftop solar will always be a niche. And I've had a conversation like that with numerous industry experts and they always echo that to me. Even people who spend their lives pushing for rooftop solar and small micro grids and they say, "Well listen, we just can't compete with the costs of these large scale systems." You know what? That's baloney. Its absolute baloney and here's why. So what I said to the utility executive, I said, "It's cheaper for you." And he paused trying to take in what I said, and I said, "If you build a 200 megawatt system in a bunch of acres outside my city, will my electricity price go down, will my bill be lower the next day, the next month?" And he goes, "Well no." And I said, "But if I put rooftop solar on my house, my electricity bill will go down the next day immediately."I said, "So it's cheaper for you to build large scale solar, but it's cheaper for me to build it on my roof." And this, and only an industry with a hundred years of competitive protection, could miss this difference. Only an industry that refers to the people that pay a hundred percent of its money as rate payers, not customers, at least they used to. It's a lot of the utilities are understanding the difference now, but they have a history which is, I'm not criticizing them. We set them up that way. Sam Insull convinced FDR and everybody to go do this and we did it and it worked me really well. The model served the country and the world really well. But for the first time in history, because of technology, there is an alternative to giant grids and giant power plants and it's cheaper for the people to do themselves and cheaper for the people that vote.

This is why the change is unstoppable. And if it's maybe the same price in 2018, a little cheaper now on average in 2022, anything that you look at out in the future, those prices are going to fall by a third, by half, by two-thirds. And people look at me and say, "Well no listen, I mean solar cells aren't going to get any cheaper, Bill." First of all, that's baloney. But I come back and I say, "On average, if you build rooftop solar system in the United States, it's surprisingly consistent, regardless of where you are, it's about $3 a watt. So if you put up a 4,000 watt, a four kilowatt system, it's about $12,000. That includes everything." And that's the average price across the United States. If you take the exact same panels, the exact same inverter, and you hire people to go on the roof, but this time in Australia, and again this is documented everywhere, it's not like you have to find some obscure source Bill Nussey found from some environmentalist, this is in 50 different credible sources.

That same system in Australia costs a dollar 10. Same hardware, same person climbing on the roof. It's one third the cost to build the identical system in Australia. It's cheaper in China. And why is that? It's all red tape in the United States.

So if the IRA law had spent three nanoseconds thinking about lawmakers, spent three nanoseconds thinking about passing part of that giant wonderful bill thinking about, "Well, can we just streamline solar installations in the US?? They could have cut the cost by half within a year or two. They chose not to because that's not where the lobbyists were focused, but it's going to happen. California just required solar app to be used. You're going to see the price of rooftop solar fall by a half within the next 10 years if not five years. And that's going to create an irresistible economic pressure for consumers and voters to go local solar. And it's going to get cheap enough and batteries are going to get cheap enough that every single solar project in a home is going to have batteries with it. Cars are going to be bidirectional, electric cars will be bidirectional, V2G, V2H, via home. This is all happening so fast and I'm now in the venture capital industry and I'm telling you, this stuff is going to happen before anyone knows it and no one's ready.


Jason Price: 

Certainly have to agree with you on the point about the cost of kilowatt, of green solar, utility scale solar, compared to just a regular kilowatt of energy that a customer would pay. And it's partly to capitalize on the green component to it. So they charge a premium because it's green, but it's not even nearly as competitive as just a regular generation of a kilowatt. So there's a great disconnect that you're pointing out that I think sometimes we don't ask the question like, "Wait a second, why at the end of the day am I paying more for cleaner energy when in fact it's the same cost as the electron I'm getting from a traditional model?"

That's a good point. We want to dig a little bit further into when we prepared for this podcast. We've got some interesting stats from you and you certainly are full of very interesting research and statistics that help give shape to the arguments that you're making. You noted that utilities as an industry have the lowest spending on R and D, but the highest spending on lobbying. I thought that was interesting. Can you dig into this a bit more? Where are those figures coming from? What do you think the consequences of them are?


Bill Nussey: 

So over the last 20 years, electric utilities have spent 2.6 billion dollars at the federal level in lobbying because at the federal level, lobbying expenses must be disclosed. Obviously we all know that utilities are largely regulated at the state level, but that 2.6 billion dollars makes them the third largest federal lobbyists of all industries. And it's a fair bet that when you actually add in state level lobbying, which again is not disclosed in virtually any state, is a good bet that utilities become the largest lobbying spending industry in the United States. Years ago I read, Bill Gates said something on an interview about how utilities had the low lowest R and D and I couldn't find that he didn't cite any sources. So I went and found several sources which are in my book. I actually found two different sources. And this is the stuff that's buried in those websites that the federal government puts out, the SIC code rankings and statistics gathered by them.

And there're several sources in my book which you can go click on and read about. And basically I found two different ones because it just seemed so crazy to me that that was the case. For example, National Regulatory Research Institute in 2015 ranked all these, and then the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics also ranked the R and D by all the industries. So these are publicly available databases. Anyone can look at them and they sort industries by the SIC codes and this stuff is buried. It was shocking to me that I was, as far as I know, that my book was the first time this stuff was actually cited and sourced. And listen, the utilities are in this position because we ask them to be. And the reason that we have so few regulated monopolies left in the United States is that when you're building an industry, especially when it's so asset intensive, it really is the best model.

And thank goodness we did it. Starting in the thirties, Rural Electrification Act, we electrified the country and especially the low income parts of the United States, which I think set the country off to become one of the dominant economic forces on the planet Earth. So this is no small thing. The power of the regulated monopoly that Sam Insull launched was brilliant and it worked. But the problem is that it, over the years, it became more expeditious, especially as more and more utilities became publicly held by public stockholders and Wall Street profits, profits, profits became involved, which by the way, I'm a capitalist, I think that's fine. But then the regulator said, "No risk. No risk. No risk. Lowest cost, lowest cost, lowest costs." And what you have is exactly what we ask for, which is an industry that wants to produce the highest possible profits at the lowest possible risk.

It has no competition. So there's no one that's going to take it out, so there's no reason to invest in research and development. And it's not to say that the industry doesn't do R and D. I interviewed the CEO of EPRI on my podcast and it was amazing the scope of things that the industry does to think about its future, but in the actual dollars and cents, it's a tiny number compared to any other industry. Basically, the industry got very comfortable, just like AT&T did.

You think back to AT&T in the fifties, they invented radar and they invented the transistor and the solar cell. I mean, back in the heyday when AT&T was first out and they enjoyed all the protections and they had felt the moral obligation to spend their profits on creating the future, they did right? But decade after decade, new CEO after new CEO, they lost that innovative edge and their energy and resources got shifted towards protecting the monopoly. And I think the utility industry has followed, to some degree, the same thing. And I have no doubt that left on their own the utility industry would get us to a great glorious clean energy future, but I don't think the rest of the world's going to wait for them.


Jason Price: 

Well, certainly compelling thoughts. So Bill, we are going to give you the last word, but first we're going to pivot to what we call our lightning round, which is where we ask you a set of questions to get a chance to learn more about you, Bill the person, rather than Bill the professional. And we ask that you keep your response to either a word or phrase. So are you ready?


Bill Nussey: 

I am. I love that you do this. We do this on my podcast and the answers are so fun.


Jason Price: 

Absolutely. All right, so question one. Least favorite household chore to do.


Bill Nussey: 

Two words, cleaning toilets.


Jason Price: 

What's the best gift you've ever gotten?


Bill Nussey: 

I'm looking at a hand drawn portrait of Doc Brown from Back to the Future and underneath it says, "Where we are going, we don't need any roads." And that was given to me when I shifted my career out of software tech into energy.


Jason Price: 

I like that one. Not sure if you're a baseball fan, but if you had to pick a song to play as you walked up to bat, what might it be?


Bill Nussey: 

I would struggle between two different ones. Come Sail Away by Styx or Back In Black by AC/DC. I show my age.


Jason Price: 

What's the best advice you've gotten as you've navigated your career?


Bill Nussey: 

Always show up early and always have a plan B.


Jason Price: 

What are you most passionate about?


Bill Nussey: 

That's easy. My life's mission is to help thousands, tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and innovators to discover just how incredibly exciting, dynamic, and frankly, rewarding the clean energy transition can be. That's why I wrote the book. And so is who it's dedicated to on the first page,


Jason Price: 

Fantastic. Nice job with the lightning round. We were successful in navigating through that and for that we're going to give you the final word to our audience. So if you could emphasize one final message, one takeaway lesson for them, our listeners, what do you hope they would remember from our conversation today?


Bill Nussey: 

For your listeners in particular, thank you, thank you. What you ladies and gentlemen have done to create a platform upon which we have built society and where most countries in the world is nothing less than breathtaking. And it's a shame that the great work that the electric utilities do every day is overlooked. We remember them when there's tens of thousands of people in the utility industry down in Florida right now, heroically trying to rebuild the grid down there and desperately need electricity turned back on again. But I'd also say to them that there's a bigger change coming and history is going to be a harsh judge. And I hope for all of them that they have the courage and the foresight to be on the right side of history as this change comes, to help the coming changes rather than fight them. That would be my one request and my one aspiration for everybody. The tremendous men and women professionals and supporters of this industry that listen into this podcast.


Jason Price: 

That's great, bill, You've certainly gotten us thinking differently and at least looking at what we do in the energy industry, perhaps a little bit differently than we did before this podcast started. So I want to thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts today.


Bill Nussey: 

Well, it's been an honor. I think what you and the community that you're around is just one that doesn't get enough credit and attention and it's really powerful, and I think they're going to be the centerpiece of some of the most exciting changes coming in society. I'm flattered to be a teeny tiny part of this great movement.


Jason Price: 

Well, fantastic. And thanks for being part of it. And we want to make sure that our audience, our energy central audience, knows that they can leave questions and comments and continue the conversation on energycentral.com. And we certainly want to give a thanks again to Bill for making time and joining us today. And of course, a shout out to our podcast sponsors. And that is thanks to West Monroe. West Monroe works with the nation's largest electric, gas, and water utilities in their telecommunication, grid modernization, and digital and workforce transformations. And West Monroe brings a multidisciplinary team that blends utility, operations and technology expertise to address modernizing aging infrastructure, advisory on transportation electrification, ADMs deployments, data and analytics, and cyber security. And once again, I'm your host Jason Price. So stay plugged in and fully charged in the discussion by hopping into the community at energycentral.com and we'll see you next time at the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast.


About Energy Central Podcasts

The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. At least twice monthly, we connect with an Energy Central Power Industry Network community member to discuss compelling topics that impact professionals who work in the power industry. Some podcasts may be a continuation of thought-provoking posts or discussions started in the community or with an industry leader that is interested in sharing their expertise and doing a deeper dive into hot topics or issues relevant to the industry.

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The Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is hosted by Jason PriceCommunity Ambassador of Energy Central. Jason is a Business Development Executive at West Monroe, working in the East Coast Energy and Utilities Group. Jason is joined in the podcast booth by the producer of the podcast, Matt Chester, who is also the Community Manager of Energy Central and energy analyst/independent consultant in energy policy, markets, and technology.  

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Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Oct 25, 2022

Bill - thanks for this incredible podcast interview.  I loved your answers to the lightning round!  I look forward to reading your book.  I would love it if you share the book with the community through a post if you haven't already - Matt Chester can help you with this! 

Bill Nussey's picture
Bill Nussey on Nov 7, 2022

Thanks for the kind words and for asking about the book. Anyone interested in the book can check it out on our site at https://FreeingEnergy.com/about-the-book. Interested folks can also buy the ebook, audiobook, hardcover, or paperback version pretty much everywhere books are sold, including Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732544646/

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