January 27, 2015

2015 Survey Reveals: Utilities Want to Seize Emerging Opportunities, but Must Solve Old Challenges

Washington, DC What will electric utilities look like in twenty years? The results of Utility Dives second annual 2015 State of the Electric Utility Survey reveal an industry that wants to change but is struggling to overcome old infrastructure and an aging workforce. To overcome these challenges, utilities will shape business models around new services.

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Utility executives clearly see immense opportunities in energy efficiency, rooftop solar and the customer relationship. They just arent sure what to do about it, said Davide Savenije, senior editor at Utility Dive. There is no proven utility business model today for these new services.

The utility of the future is not based on electricity sales

During the recession, optimists believed electricity sales would rebound once the economy recovered. But today, the outlook remains bleak. 77% of utilities are seeing minimal, stagnant or even negative load growth.

The industry is not sure how to best address this challenge. One sign of progress is that utilities are beginning to transition from a business model based on electricity sales towards others that are more service-oriented. Many utilities are developing new models energy efficiency, demand response, consumer information services, and distributed solar with the customer at the heart of their business.

Historically, utilities only engaged with customers during power outages or to resolve billing issues. Today, utilities understand that customer engagement is not only critical for growth, but even more so for maintaining profitability amongst increased competition.

Utilities are getting older, and so is the grid

70 percent of executives are confident in the future of the U.S. electric utility industry, but utilities cannot seize new opportunities without solving their biggest challenges. Utility executives listed old infrastructure and the aging workforce as their most pressing challenges and rightfully so.

The U.S. power grid is responsible for more blackouts than any other developed nation leading to billions of dollars in losses each year. Disturbingly, 53% of utilities said their grids are not adequately protected against physical and cyber attacks. Meanwhile, 75% of the utility executives surveyed were over the age of 40. The aging of the utility workforce and grid infrastructure are urgent challenges that utilities need to solve if they hope to benefit from emerging opportunities and to secure Americas grid networks from terrorism.

Power supply, energy storage, and other key findings

  • Utilities plan to use more natural gas, solar, wind, distributed energy resources, and energy efficiency over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, the industry expects to use significantly less coal and oil.
  • Over 60% of utility executives believe the EPA should hold to its current plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30% nationwide by 2030 or make the plan more aggressive.
  • Concern over federal emissions standards among utility executives has more than doubled since last year.
  • Only 8% of utilities view centralized generation as one of their three biggest growth opportunities.
  • 53% of utility executives believe they should invest more in energy storage.

About the State of the Electric Utility Survey

The 2 nd annual survey was compiled using responses from more than 400 U.S. electric utility executives currently employed at U.S. electric utilities. This years report strives to identify the key challenges and opportunities that will determine the future of the U.S. electric utility industry. The full report is available for download at www.utilitydive.com/surveys/seu2015 .