Utilities across the United States are expanding their surge protection programs and, as a result, are creating new profit centers and increasing their customer service commitments This is according to Stan Allina, chairman of AEMT Inc., a holding company that owns several power-related companies, including Meter-Treater Inc., a developer of residential meter-based surge protectors and a similar product for light industrial applications. Surge protection is one area where a commitment to customer service can be gauged, said Allina. It is likely that a utility with a strong power quality surge protection program also will offer other programs that assist customers with their needs, he added.
Surge protection fills a basic need and provides a sense of security for customers. “With the continued reliance on computers and other electronic devices, we’re seeing-in some sectors-a growing interest in expanding the scope of surge protection,” Allina said.
“The most significant increase has been in the light industrial sector, which has been virtually ignored in recent years,” he said. “Businesses in these facilities have been at risk, falling between large corporations with sophisticated protection and residences with basic meter-based surge suppressers.”
According to information obtained by Meter-Treater, utilities are turning their attention to businesses in light industrial and professional office settings by providing cost-effective solutions that respond to their surge protection needs. This focus is long overdue, Allina said, because in many markets the economy is driven by medical practices, small law firms, retail stores, manufacturing plants and other professional and light industrial businesses.
“The key in marketing this type of product is to ask the user to look behind the meter to see what could be damaged,” Allina said. “A medium-sized medical practice could have a $300,000 MRI system. A law firm or accounting practice could have 15 to 20 computer stations. A multi-bay warehouse could house any number of businesses that are at risk. The cost of replacement or downtime is significant and has greater ramifications than if a television is damaged at home.”
The new surge protection products aimed at this market are expanding the success of residential programs into a sector that has been all but ignored. In addition, this new market is providing a new profit center for utilities.
According to Allina, light industrial and small office buildings are at greater risk than the average home because homes are frequently buffered by trees and landscaping, and light industrial facilities are usually more exposed, surrounded by parking lots and frequently closer to power lines. In addition, Allina pointed out that businesses sharing the same transformer are at considerable risk. For example, a law firm and a company utilizing heavy equipment could find themselves in this situation. The heavy equipment company could create a surge resulting in considerable damage to the law firm’s electrical systems.
“Deregulation has given utilities an excuse to provide these types of products. However, many are not taking the hint and will continue to operate as they did in less competitive times,” Allina said. “On the other hand, the utilities that offer surge protection programs are the ones that have a genuine concern for customers and do not necessarily use deregulation as an excuse to improve service.”
Toronto Hydro and Ontario Power Generation Launch E-commerce Hub
A new electronic business transaction (EBT) hub reportedly will be the first of its kind in North America to provide centralized electronic data management and transaction services to local distribution companies (LDCs) and energy retailers once Ontario’s competitive electricity market opens.
Launched in late October in Toronto, EBT Express is the result of a $7.7 million joint venture between Toronto Hydro Corp. and provincial generation company Ontario Power Generation (OPG). Robert Lister will serve as general manager of EBT Express, and the hub will be managed initially by a joint executive committee of the two organizations.
John Brooks, Toronto Hydro president and CEO, said EBT Express will make it easier and more cost-effective for retailers and market participants to do business. “Toronto Hydro Corp. and OPG have the size and critical mass to make it work for the benefit of all concerned, both here in the Ontario market and nationally,” he said.
Under competitive market rules, electricity retailers are required to set up customer accounts with LDCs as soon as customers select their energy retailers. For the purpose of billing, LDCs and retailers will need to send information back and forth to ensure customers’ accounts are accurate. EBT Express will act as a clearinghouse where transaction information is exchanged, including each customer’s name, LDC, address, payment history, energy use and cost of power. All customer information will be kept secure and confidential.
Information passing through the hub is forwarded to the appropriate trading partner and records of the transaction are archived in a secure environment for the purpose of providing an audit trail and resolving customer disputes.
Excelergy Corp.’s Excelergy eXACT, a solution that translates, validates, manages and delivers data exchanged among users, provides the technology infrastructure for EBT Express. More information about EBT Express is available online at www.ebtexpress.com.