04/01/2021

BY SUSANNE TURNBO, MANAGING DIRECTOR

By now, we all know about the challenges faced by the Texas power grid during winter storm Uri. The storm, which brought record low temperatures and snowfall to the state, could be responsible for an insurance loss between $10 and $20 billion.

This level of insurance loss is comparable to major hurricanes. Just like the 1900 Galveston hurricane, a few predicted it, but most Texans didn’t see it coming – especially the level of strain to the grid. That Galveston storm is the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, but it’s worth noting that out of this historic tragedy, came our present-day forecasting, enhanced communications, and warning protocols for approaching hurricanes. You don’t have to be a meteorologist to understand that countless lives have been saved by these innovations.

It is not unique for digital innovation to follow great challenge. Our history as humans is punctuated by these circumstances. This does beg the question – what will we learn, and how will we change because of our current moment with the Texas power grid?

In a fascinating twist, the industry itself is on the cusp of transformative change with large-scale batteries coming on-line and many more being developed. The focus here has been on storing excess energy produced by solar and wind. In light of the storm, these large-scale batteries could mitigate risks in situations where power plants aren’t performing optimally, and fill in the gaps when power demand exceeds supply; thus, bringing more stability to the grid and potentially keeping your lights on when they otherwise would have gone out.

What will we learn, and how will we change because of our current moment with the Texas power grid?

We Want It All, and We Want it Now

As for the customer – and we know the customer is always king – most aren’t thinking about the large-scale solutions. They care about whether the power is on, and, if not, when it will return. Of course there are more savvy customers, but it is this fundamental component combined with minimizing and managing bills that gets much of the focus. We can’t lose sight of the customer’s perspective, especially considering their ever-increasing service expectations for their utilities.

In our advancing digital age, we will see customers expecting more at a faster pace. We want options for personalized, individual communication in a variety of mediums such as text messages, smart phone apps, and more. We have come to expect near real-time, effective mass communications from institutions like our employers, schools, restaurants, retailers, churches, and even the dentist who sure won’t let you forget your appointment. I can monitor the stages of my pizza cooking and then track its delivery in real time. My Instacart shopper can communicate with me in-store while we negotiate a substitution for the milk that is out of stock. When my child’s school district has an important announcement, sometimes I get a phone call, text message, and email all at the same time. These are unfair comparisons to the complexity of communicating with utilities customers, but does it matter? It leaves us expecting more in all aspects of our lives, whether that is reasonable or not.

Despite the tragic circumstances, the utilities industry is poised and ready for digital innovation on many levels. Back to the Galveston hurricane in 1900, we are better and safer today because that disaster gave us a new lens with which to see how to change.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”

The utilities industry is poised and ready for digital innovation on many levels.

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