By Stephen Daniels
Why didn’t my utility see this coming? I saw the news.
“Winter Blast 2011″… “Lay in heavy supplies, this one is going to be a bear”…”Colder in Dallas than it is in Anchorage today”.
So, I prepared. I rushed to the supermarket and prepared for the blizzard. I called the school weather hotline. No school, thank goodness, so won’t have to worry about getting the kids up and out of the house. Nothing to do now but go to bed and see if we wake up to real snow in Texas.
That is what many Texas consumers did last week and they thought they had covered their bases. Unfortunately, the folks responsible for making sure the lights stay on seem to have been asleep at the wheel. Unprecedented spending on the Smart Grid is in the news everyday and the deployment of smart meters has moved at a break-neck pace. Trucks have rolled up to houses across the state and extended their ability to see how much energy is being used and exactly when it is being used. Forecasting demand for electricity should be a fairly exact science.
But it wasn’t. Rolling blackouts started early in the day and affected significant portions of the state. Residences, businesses, schools, even hospitals were in the mix. As we saw on the news, the group responsible for electric reliability (ERCOT) put out the call for additional capacity but utilities were unable to answer the bell. The blackouts continued throughout the day. I have heard my whole life that Texas has little to worry about when it comes to power because we have our own grid. Sounds great until your “own grid” doesn’t have enough power for the people who live on it.
When the utilities were confronted by consumers about the value of smart meters, the standard marketing campaign double speak told us that they were the key to the Smart Grid and were going to give us unparalleled reliability. Instead, we saw a first in my lifetime, outages across the state. Then, to add insult to injury, we were told to expect more blackouts and that everyone should curb their usage at home during this record cold. How about, “We are working hard to rise to the challenge and get the necessary resources online”?
The federal government decided that fast-forwarding our utility infrastructure into the future was worthy of hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and you all lined up to get your share but we are left wondering if “spend it fast” was the total depth of the plan to use that money. Electrons are a commodity but when you start asking me to participate by checking my daily or hourly consumption, curb my demand at peak times, and work with you to ensure the health of the systems you have to start thinking differently. It is time for you to start thinking about your service in terms of product.
We are past the era of being amazed that the lights come on when we flip the switch. Complicated problems require thoughtful answers. Quality service, clear customer engagement, and a well-communicated plan must be part of the strategy.