Facebook, Microsoft demand better, more innovative customer service from utilities
Large energy consumers that believe strongly in renewables, like Microsoft Corp. and Facebook Inc., say the utility industry has more work to do when it comes to providing first-rate customer service in an evolving market environment.
Customers are seeking innovative solutions from utilities to meet their operational needs. At Facebook, for instance, reliability, cost effectiveness, and renewable energy are at the top of the list.
“This is a changing dynamic, a changing sector. The utility customer relationship needs to change as well,” Bobby Hollis, head of energy at Facebook, said during the Edison Electric Institute’s financial conference in Phoenix this week.
According to J.D. Power and Associates, a global market research firm that surveys a variety of industries on customer satisfaction, electric utilities came in last out of 17 industries.
“We know the main thing we want to see is a very symbiotic relationship with our utility,” Hollis said.
“These are really large dollars on both sides of the equation and we need to make sure that we’re getting the same level of attention as we look to accelerate capital spending and to bring on additional buildings at certain sites,” he added.
To keep up with its massive storage infrastructure needs, Facebook operates data centers that house tens of thousands of computer servers, requiring an enormous amount of electricity. Facebook has built four data centers with two more sites under construction. It also leases additional server space from data center providers.
Facebook recently announced it will open a data center in Los Lunas, New Mexico, and it worked closely with PNM, New Mexico’s largest electric utility, to develop a contract to provide the electricity. The center will be largely solar powered.
“When we came into New Mexico, we knew there was not a utility tariff structure that worked for us to do what we wanted, which was to be able to get to 100 percent renewable energy,” Hollis said.
“We immediately started working with PNM to get there. And the reason that was so important is because what we found is the utility relationship on existing sites where we don’t do that on the front end become impossible,” he added.
At Microsoft, manufacturing and certain other operations have been 100 percent powered by renewable energy since 2014.
The company operates about 100 data centers around the world and is always on the lookout for locations to open more, often with a price tag of $1 billion-plus each.
Microsoft also announced it aims to have its data centers rely on a larger percentage of wind, solar and hydropower electricity in the future. Its data centers currently rely on renewables for about 44 percent of their electricity needs; Microsoft’s goal is to grow that percentage to 50 percent by the end of 2018.