Providing Energy Services in a Changing Industry: 2010 Energy Policy Forum

Anyone following the path of an electron today could be excused for thinking he or she was in the wrong millennium. "Dinosaurs" still rule the world. Large, central power stations produce the vast majority of electricity. Coal, natural gas, some oil, or uranium enters on one end. Electrons and various other byproducts — some innocuous, most not — leave on the other, pushed over long distances across aging transmission lines. Many get lost along the way. Once at their final destinations, electrons are piped, anonymously, into businesses and people's homes. The vast majority of customers don't care about their origin or the way they get there, as long as they do, reliably, day after day. Most people only interact with their utility when there is a service interruption and, once a month, when a plain white envelope announces the previous month's electricity use. The bill might include a quick chart, showing energy use compared to last year's, but most still remains a mystery. The frequent reaction to a bill, any bill? Anger. Why so much? Which device was responsible? How can I save money? Utilities see the world through entirely different eyes: How to convey the message that a $200 bill buys more and better services than $20? Electrons in 1980 supplied 3 devices in the average house: the TV, the fridge, and the washing machine. Today, the number is 25. Should people even be our ultimate customers? Why not devices, leaving humans as payment authorizers? How to strike the trifecta of delivering "affordable, reliable and clean" electrons? How to stay nimble in an ever-changing world?


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Academic Units
International and Public Affairs
Aspen Institute
Published Here
January 30, 2012