Want to Save the US $370 Million a Year? Throw in Some Kumbyah

As the seasons hinted of change within San Antonio Hill Country, speakers at the 32nd annual Itron Utility Week left subtlety to Mother Nature. Change, they said, is necessary and attainable within the utilities industry, but it requires extreme, motivated leadership in addition to technology-plus a cultivation of love in the workplace.

Itron President and CEO Philip Mezey emphasized doing more with less during his keynote presentation.

“In the past 30 years, we have halved the amount of energy used per GDP,” Mezey said. “GDP has doubled in size at a time when we have become more efficient.”

Still, the room for improvement is staggering. The total cost of wasted resources each year in the U.S. is $37 billion, Mezey said.

Just for perspective’s sake, Citic Pacific Ltd., the largest conglomerate in China, paid $37 billion in August for assets from its parent company, China’s first state-owned investment corporation. That money bought stakes in financial services, resources and energy, manufacturing, real estate, infrastructure, engineering contracting and other businesses in China and other countries.

Back stateside, that wasted $37 billion weighs heavily on utilities. The breakdown includes $13 billion in water leaks, $24 billion in electricity lost through transmission and distribution, and $20 billion in unaccounted for natural gas, Mezey said. He challenged the utility industry to reduce wasted resources just 1 percent, which would save $370 million annually. Smart metering, he said, is a feasible way to achieve that goal.

“That 1 percent will set us on a road,” Mezey said. “Imagine how your job would change if AMI technology could help reach that reduction goal.”

Attendees got the numbers and challenge from Mezey on the first day. On the second day, they learned how to disregard normal constraints to change the world. Keynote speaker Steve Farber said “extreme leaders” can find creative solutions and convince others to sign on. And those he’s interviewed all used a common word when describing their jobs: love. They love their jobs like they’re extensions of their families, and they seek job thrills similar to those who enjoy extreme sports. Farber calls it “the dynamic interplay of fear and love-two of the most powerful forces in the human experience.” He also said extreme leaders aren’t afraid to hire and train people who are better than they are.

That’s what it’s going to take for the industry to reach Mezey’s 1 percent reduction challenge. Technology alone won’t get us there, and neither will Kumbyah-but a lot of both might.

I urge the rest of the industry to join me in sharing and accepting Mr. Mezey’s challenge.

TERESA HANSEN   Senior Editor
Kristen Wright
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Kristen Wright is a senior editor of Electric Light & Power and POWERGRID International magazines, as well as the Electric Light & Power Executive Digest and CS Week Bulletin e-newsletters. She is a committee member for PennWell's DistribuTECH Conference & Exhibition and the Electric Light & Power Executive Conference. Kristen joined PennWell in 2003 as an assistant editor for Dental Economics magazine. She was promoted to associate editor of that publication, plus Woman Dentist Journal, Proofs, RDH, Dental Graduate and Grand Rounds in Oral Systemic Medicine. She also has worked as a PennWell textbook editor. Kristen has 13 years of journalism experience in daily and weekly newspapers, magazines, television news, public relations, photography and graphic design and layout.

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