Avoiding the death spiral: Think "multipurpose" to future-proof your utility



By Jesse Berst


I've recently been part of several brainstorming sessions about the future of electric power. To my consternation, the phrase that kept coming up was "death-spiral." Many industry observers believe our industry is headed for financial woes.


I won't review all the forces that are converging to make the current business model obsolete. If you are active in electric power you hear about them every day - renewables, storage, net metering, microgrids, "prosumers," aging workforce, environmental regulations, the data deluge and more.


What I will do is suggest an approach that can help utilities survive -- perhaps even thrive -- during this period of change. In fact, I'll boil it down to a single word: "multipurpose."


I came to this insight after research and interviews for an upcoming webinar on January 22 titled How to Futureproof Your Distribution Utililty. Click the link to read more details and register. It's free to Smart Grid News readers while space remains.


Why adaptable means multipurpose

As part of my research, I interviewed several top executives from Elster, a leading provider of meters, communications networks, multi-vendor head-end systems, and data management solutions. They are taking an approach with their company that I think is relevant to all electric power utilities, whether or not they do business with Elster. Their inspiration comes from Charles Darwin, who said:


"It is not the strongest of the species ... nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable..."


If we know things are going to change dramatically but we don't know just how, then our best chance to survive is to be adaptable. What does adaptable mean when it comes to electric power? The Elster people believe -- and I agree -- that it means equipment and software that is flexible, versatile and interoperable. (While providing security and privacy to the end user.)


I think "multipurpose" is the word that best sums up those qualities. I like it because it's a practical, concrete word you can use to make your planning and buying decisions.

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