From Scott Carlberg

Getting power to customers and keeping the power on may have been a hallmark of success for utilities in the past. Not anymore. It is bigger than that. There are more dimensions to be a utility now.

Successful companies tap strategic vendors, they tap experts, on-board new technology to make sure customers get premier service. That kind of teamwork doesn’t just happen. The ability to collaborate is built over years, founded on important principles of openness, thoughtfulness, good planning, and trust.

Especially trust. “Given the central importance of trust in successful collaborations, building and maintaining trust is an ongoing practice foundational to every other practice during the collaboration project,” said the Harvard Business Review.

Utilities, companies that have prided themselves on self-reliance, are adopting a much more collaborative approach. To put more of a point on it, successful utilities know how to partner with others. Work together in an open, forthright manner.

That’s because the power utility industry is changing. The definitions of success are broadening beyond keeping the lights on. I saw several examples recently that exemplify a collaborative manner of work, where utilities use their collaborative skills to benefit themselves, communities, and customers.

Electric vehicles (EV) in Columbus, Ohio: Residents bought 3,323 EVs in three years, surpassing a goal of the region’s Smart Columbus  initiative. More than 20 percent of consumers say they’ll probably buy an EV. Reasons for the higher adoption rate:

  • A network of free chargers in business and public spaces
  • Large employers collaborated
  • Original equipment manufacturers and “electrified dealers” made EVs available
  • Regional transportation practices have been re-designed
  • Local utility American Electric Power is a lead partner in Smart Columbus.

Thermostats in Michigan: Consumers Energy will help up to 100,000 customers get smart thermostats to minimize the need for the utility to tap expensive peak power. (Source)  It is a collaboration between the power company, Google, and Uplight, an energy efficiency organization. Michigan’s state government and a national environmental group buy-in. This initiative educates consumers, helps reduce electric load, and saves money.

Collaborative NC clean energy: A 35-megawatt solar facility will be constructed in Iredell County, NC. Under a 20-year power purchase agreement, Duke Energy will secure zero carbon power to partially offset the City of Charlotte’s energy demand. Partnerships in the effort include the city, Duke Energy, an NC solar company, and an international solar company.

Largest community solar project: Florida Power & Light Company  will develop the largest community solar project in the US. It will have 20 solar plants (not panels) for about 1.5 gigawatts, and cost $1.7 billion. It is backed by solar advocacy groups Vote Solar, Southern Alliance for Green Energy, and local cities, counties, and prospective corporate customers, 7-Eleven and Walmart. (Source)

Why these projects work…

Trusted and effective collaboration is a foundation of successful power providers; trusted and effective work between the utility and other companies, and with consumers.

The important effect of collaboration is to stay relevant. Be real. Empathize. Don’t be self-centered. There is no “going it alone.”

Being able to “play well with others” is another perspective. The skill is not a given in all companies, though. The companies here have worked openly and thoroughly to get to the finish line on important energy projects.

Stories about the best utilities in the future will be “we” news, not “I” news. Real collaboration is part of a confident corporate culture. Watch the way your utility practices collaboration. Many do it well. If you do not see open and collaborative work from your utility, ask why.

Entrepreneur magazine has a short article called, The Importance of Teamwork and Collaboration. A company can be large or small, new or not to practice this. It is a management mindset, a value proposition.