The customer reigns supreme for investor-owned electric companies
ORLANDO — The power industry is transitioning to a more customer-centric focus fueled by distributed energy resources (DER) that are being added to the grid, sources said during the Edison Electric Institute’s (EEI) Financial Conference held here earlier this week.
As electric companies spend billions to upgrade their infrastructures to support DER interaction with the grid, their focus on customer needs now shares equal billing alongside a focus on their businesses’ bottom lines.
For example, the investment strategy at the Public Service Electric and Gas Co. (PSE&G) “is aligned with public policy and customer needs,” said Ralph Izzo, chairman, president and CEO of New Jersey’s largest electric and gas delivery and transmission company, which had 2016 assets of $26 billion.
“Customer expectations and public policy objectives drive the need for continued and increasing distribution investments,” along with investments in the core infrastructure system, Izzo told attendees Nov. 7 during a session releasing PSE&G’s latest financials during an EEI conference session.
Giving customers what they want includes ongoing or newly planned PSE&G investments in solar, energy efficiency and automation, among others. Programs such as the company’s Energy Strong and its Gas System Modernization Program aim to build resiliency into its systems, creating better, cost-effective products and services for customers, he said.
And further into the future, Izzo added, PSE&G at some point plans to travel into areas including electric vehicle charging and distributed resources like batteries and fuel cells.
PSE&G’s mission, Izzo said, is to ensure that its customers have reliable and affordable services, so capital investments will be deployed to make sure that happens.
Toward that end, PSE&G has invested approximately $2.1 billion as of Sept. 30 in electric and gas transmission and distribution capital projects “designed to provide more reliable, safe and resilient service to our 2.2 million customers,” he said, and for the year, the utility currently expects to invest $3.1 billion of capital in its infrastructure.
Likewise, transmission and distribution are now all about how the customer views his or her interaction with them, said Nicholas “Nick” Akins, chairman, president and chief executive of American Electric Power (AEP), during his EEI financial presentation the same day.
“We’re at the nascent stage in how we do business this way,” said Akins, who added that AEP’s strategic vision for 2022 includes transforming the customer experience with a focus on innovative technologies along with grid and resources development.
AEP investments in its distribution and transmission systems will “give customers significant benefits as rebuild and enhance aging infrastructure, add advanced, more efficient technologies, and create a more robust and resilient system,” Akins said.