The Times, They are A-Changin

Sponsored and Written by: Douglas Esamann, Executive Vice President of Energy Solutions & President, Midwest and Florida Regions, Duke Energy

Douglas Esamann

Bob Dylan wrote this “hippie” anthem in October of 1963. He had on his mind thoughts about bigger things than the energy industry. But the theme and his words certainly apply to us. In one verse Bob sings “Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand. For the Times They are a-Changin'”.  Indeed they are.

Over the last 10 years and as we look forward, clean energy has been and will continue to be the focus. An improved customer experience is moving center stage. Electric sales are stagnating as customers get more motivated to reduce their energy usage. It’s easier now more than any time before to find cost effective ways to reduce energy consumption. The Paris Accord signals that the world is trying to gather a collective momentum around the need to reduce man-made greenhouse gases. Cooperation is needed to develop serious solutions that will actually reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in a sustainable manner. We must avoid the temptation to solve only for the near term focusing almost exclusively on large stationary sources of COemissions, renewable energy and coal to gas conversions. We must solve this long- term challenge in a sustainable way that is economy wide.

I’ve been in the electric utility business for 37 years. Our main focus for most of those years was to provide access to reliable, low cost power to our customers as they flocked to more and more of life’s conveniences powered by electricity. They wanted more electricity and we were happy to provide it to them. We were quite happy to show them more and more ways they could use electricity to cook, cool, heat and light their lives; and use it to provide some home entertainment as well.

But… The Times, They are a Changin’. And everything we have done in the past needs to be re-thought, re-examined and re-charged in light of where we are and where we want to take our industry. From technological advances to regulatory constructs to system and resource planning to environmental stewardship to customer preferences, we need to embrace the changes necessary to deliver a valued product and services our customers demand.

We’ve got to stop giving customers what we want to give them when we want to give it to them, and start finding out what our customers really want and make those investments. One thing is certain, customers don’t want one option – they want choices and they want information. They also want control and convenience at a good value.

But, let’s not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. This marvel of an integrated system that provides us the electricity to power our lives has many valuable and necessary features. Changes to it, while necessary to reflect our priorities of today and technological developments that have helped create more economical options, should not be taken lightly. Let’s engage in these tough, and at times emotional issues, and find common ground on the changes necessary to move us forward. Forward to a cleaner energy future that has the focus squarely on the customer. Let’s get our customers engaged. Let’s respond to their demands and provide them a valued service and more options.

Moving forward also requires a fully engaged, aligned and collaborative process that not only involves customers, but also stakeholders from business, industry, advocacy groups, regulators and the nonprofit sector. Smart solutions demand that all voices be in the room. No single source or entity has the monopoly on all of the best solutions. The challenges we face today demand we sit across the table from those we may not always agree with, but when those conversations remain focused on our common interests they yield tremendous benefits.

I’ve had the pleasure of serving on the Financial Research Institute’s (FRI) Advisory Board for a relatively short period of time, about five years. This past year, I served as chairman. It’s my belief that organizations like FRI provide a great forum for diverse perspectives to be discussed, better understood, challenged, defended, supported and respected.

It’s also an effective forum for discussing actions, approaches and changes that have been or can be put in place and tailored to each state’s specifics needs. Like many, I learn by doing and the more we can get to doing over discussing, the more we can accelerate the pace of change. The longer we wait, the greater the challenge becomes. Kudos to FRI for creating the forum for integration among such a diverse set of stakeholders. Let’s continue to take full advantage of this great opportunity!