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by Kristen Wright, senior editor

Electric Light & Power Executive Conference Wrap-up

The fifth annual Electric Light & Power Executive Conference was bigger, better and more aligned with utility executives’ schedules than ever before, attendees said. More than 100 VIPs from the electric utility industry attended the Jan. 27 and 28 executive preview of DistribuTECH Conference & Exhibition in San Antonio.

Energy journalist and keynote speaker Robert Bryce talks about global electricity demand and carbon emissions.

This year’s theme was Winning the Ratepayer-to-Customer Revolution.

The Keynotes: Robert Bryce, Ken Carter

Opening keynote speaker Robert Bryce, an energy journalist and author of the book “Power Hungry,” said that saying “yes” to limits on carbon dioxide (CO2) equates to limiting the growth of economies.

“The global economy runs on hydrocarbons,” Bryce said.

Since 1985, he said, global electricity demand has been growing by “one Brazil” per year.

It’s impossible for wind and solar power to generate that much power, he said.

“The punch line is obvious,” Bryce said. “They cannot even meet incremental demand growth.”

To put it into perspective, he said, the world would need to add an area the size of Minnesota or the U.K. with no people on it, only new wind turbines and solar panels, every year. Even as the U.S. has cut its CO2 emissions, global CO2 production has increased 32 percent, Bryce said. If the rest of the world won’t play by the same rules, he asked, what’s the point of decreasing U.S. CO2 emissions and strangling the U.S. economy?

PPL Corp. Chairman, President and CEO Wiliam H. Spence, fifth from left, shares the Utility of the Year Award with his employees.

Although CO2 remains a contentious point, a widely celebrated star has emerged on the energy scene: U.S. shale. Bryce called it the most important discovery in global power.

“No one saw this coming, and now the U.S. is the envy of the world,” Bryce said about shale gas.

He also made clear his reason for supporting nuclear power.

“If you are anti-nuclear, you are pro-blackout,” Bryce said.

He concluded his U.S. power generation analysis with this: If the void left by cutting carbon emissions from coal won’t be filled by nuclear power, it’s got to be filled by natural gas, he said.

On the second day, Ken Carter, the former head basketball coach at Richmond (Calif.) High School portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson in the film “Coach Carter,” delivered the keynote.

Carter talked about energy, as well, but as it applies to self-determination and personal success. He shared some of his alternative methods to inspire leadership.

“I’m telling you as a coach, don’t work on your weaknesses because they’re no fun,” Carter said.

Instead, he said, practice what you enjoy and what you’re good at.

Carter also repeated a message throughout his luncheon speech.

“Reset your preset.”

He said he often observes people who make themselves miserable just to lose a few pounds, for example.

Large Utility CEO of the Year John Di Stasio of SMUD accepts his award from Teresa Hansen.

“When I gain weight, I just buy a bigger suit,” he said.

Also, Carter emphasized that people create their own luck, and in general, they need to stop whining and instead get to work and make things happen.

“Think about it: 80 percent of people don’t want to hear about your problems,” Carter said. “The other 20 percent are glad it’s you and not them.

“If you can control your thinking, you can control your success,” he said.

And there’s one other thing: People, take responsibility, Carter said.

“Don’t have your momma call me,” he said.

The Sessions

Strategies for Meeting Customer Demands. Four utility executives discussed how their customers’ expectations have grown and how their utilities have responded.

Teresa Hansen presents the Small Utility CEO of the Year award to Thomas H. Husted of VEA.

Val Jensen is senior vice president of customer operations at Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd), an electricity delivery unit of Chicago-based Exelon Corp. with some 3.8 million customers across northern Illinois.

Jensen said that not too long ago, he got tired of dwelling at the bottom of customer satisfaction surveys.

“Being last really doesn’t create a lot of pride in an organization,” he said.

It was time to change that, so some 50 ComEd employees met for nine months or so, Jensen said. The result was about 50 initiatives that focus on contact centers and outage communications. Not long after that, ComEd jumped in the J.D. Power Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, he said.

“Sometimes a little revolution is good for the soul of the business,” Jensen said.

Joseph A. Forline, vice president of customer solutions at PSE&G, New Jersey’s oldest and largest publicly owned utility, said his utility has been the most reliable in the U.S. for five of the past 12 years.

He also mentioned how social media has become integral to the utility. PSE&G launched social media in 2012, text messaging in 2013 and will launch mobile Web, enhanced outage maps and two-way text in 2014, Forline said.

And, like many utilities, PSE&G tweets updates about power outages and restoration.

“We became No. 1,” Forline said of PSE&G’s tweets. “It’s called Superstorm Sandy.”

He said demand for live status updates skyrocketed on Twitter as the storm hit the region. PSE&G even had to call the Twitter CEO to request more bandwidth on the second day of the storm, Forline said.

Sandy destroyed one-third of PSE&G’s substations. Subsequently, the utility filed for $3.9 billion in hardening over the next 10 years, Forline said.

Erwin Furukawa, senior vice president of customer service at Southern California Edison (SCE), talked about evolving technologies and how utilities are serving customers. An example of a change in how SCE customers use energy is electric vehicles (EVs), he said. In 2013, some 12,000 SCE customers owned or leased EVs–that’s 10 percent of all U.S. plug-in EV sales, according to SCE.

Customers also are changing how they manage their energy usage. SCE has deployed 5 million smart meters. Furukawa said where people get their energy is changing, and the network is changing, as well. The changes aren’t limited only to residential customers, either.

“This year we are mandated to take all of our business customers to time of use,” Furukawa said.

Lee Krevat, director of smart grid and clean transportation at San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), explained how social media has changed his utility.

SDG&E had about 2,000 Twitter followers, he said. And then there was a blackout. Suddenly, the utility had 200,000 followers, he said.

But social media also can be a forum for customers to complain, he said.

“About once a week we have someone apologize,” Krevat said.

It happens after a customer has complained publically, and someone from SDG&E immediately has responded. Usually the customer says something like, “I didn’t realize you guys were on top it,” Krevat said.

Enlisting Help From the Outside. Two speakers from outside the utilities industry presented during the second session.

Julie Albright, Ph.D., is managing director of the University of Southern California Institute and a research scientist at the USC Information Sciences Institute. The expert on culture and communication said three big megatrends have changed human society: the printing press, the industrial revolution and the digital revolution, which is happening now.

The crowd works the room before the sold-out awards dinner.

The people most affected by the digital revolution, she said, are the ones growing up in a world of iPads, iPhones, email, the Internet and 24/7 access to information: the millennials born in the 1980s and ’90s.

“If you think their values don’t matter, you better think again,” Albright said.

She reminded the audience that this group soon will be the dominant consumers and work force.

Albright also explained that human fear leads to blowback, and the behavioral science can be applied to smart meters. She said utility regulators often deal with consumer fear by shutting down smart meter installations.

The most effective way to sway opinion and build consumer trust, she said, is to be familiar.

“A ‘person like me’ becomes a credible person,” Albright said.

Wes Laird, vice president of market strategy at USAA Bank, also presented. Laird shared USAA’s customer service strategies that have propelled the company to a No. 1 ranking on the J.D. Power & Associates list of America’s Most Admired Companies. USAA calls its customers members.

“Every member, every interaction counts,” Laird said.

Closed-door Breakout Sessions. The Electric Light & Power Executive Conference also included two breakout sessions in which the audience members became the presenters. Session 1 was Whose Data is it Anyway? Session 2 was Dealing With “Prosumers.” Because the sessions were private, media and event organizers were unable to attend and therefore report on the topics. Attendees who exited the sessions reported they were extremely informative and went well.

The Awards Dinner

For the first time, Editor in Chief Teresa Hansen announced the annual POWERGRID International Projects of the Year live the evening before the keynote during the Electric Light & Power and POWERGRID International Awards Dinner.

The banquet in the Lonesome Dove Room on the banks of the River Walk drew more than 200 guests, including Projects of the Year finalists; Electric Light & Power Small Utility CEO of the Year Thomas H. Husted, CEO of Valley Electric Association in Pahrump, Nev.; Electric Light & Power Large Utility CEO of the Year John Di Stasio, general manager and CEO of Sacramento Municipal Utility District; and PPL Corp. Chairman, President and CEO William H. Spence, who accepted the Electric Light & Power Utility of the Year award.

Pepco Holdings Inc. won the Demand Response/Energy Efficiency Project of the Year for its Energy Wise Rewards Program.

Erwin Furukawa, Val Jensen and Joseph A. Forline share a laugh during their panel on meeting customer demands.

Consolidated Edison won the Customer Engagement Project of the Year for its coolNYC Program.

And Florida Power & Light Co. won two awards: the Renewable Energy Integration Project of the Year for its Smart Islanding Program; and the Smart Grid Project of the Year for its Reaping the Benefits of the Smart Grid Project.

The winning projects and runners-up are featured in more detail in the April issue of POWERGRID International magazine.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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