Electric cooperatives and other utilities may offer new products like HVAC systems and support services to meet the needs of consumers. (Photo By: NRECA)
Remember landline phones? They're a thing of the past. Electric utilities can't fall into the same trap, a panel of experts told the Smart Energy Summit.
"If you decide that you are just going to be a deliverer of energy, you could ultimately fail," said Cullen Hay, U.S. general manager of residential services for Direct Energy, an investor-owned utility reseller which markets retail electricity to utility customers.
Instead, panelists at a summit forum suggested utilities can begin offering heating, ventilation and air conditioning packages, and rooftop solar arrays leased to consumers for monthly fees.
Those programs would operate similar to water heater and security light contracts offered by many electric co-ops.
"If the utility is not allowed [by regulators or management] to engage in some of these services, we could all lose some potential benefits," said Tanuj Deora, chief strategy officer for the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA).
Deora cited the decline of landline telecommunications following deregulation and the rise of cellular and wireless technology and emphasized the need for utilities to establish a sustainable revenue model.
SEPA's 51st State Initiative, a collaborative program supported by NRECA, its member co-ops and other industry interests, for many of the options he presented.
"You can see where utilities say 'We're going to stop selling kilowatt-hours and start selling services,' " Deora said.
Panelists agreed the changes become even more necessary as utilities face stalled load growth and, in some areas, declines in demand.
"Consumers will respond to what you offer them if you offer them things they think are important," Hay told the session.
For some electric cooperatives and other utilities, those have included community solar arrays, reward-based demand response programs, and incentivized distributed energy resource plans for members and customers who own renewal energy systems.