WEI President Chuck Meyer recently asked Chair Dave Hutchens and Vice Chair Ron Nichols to share a few insights about today’s energy landscape with WE readers.

CM: Why should an energy company want to take advantage of customer-focused opportunities?

DH: That’s easy: It’s good business. Our customers have options for energy services, and they are looking for the best ways to manage and control their energy use. Utilities must become even more customer-centric to remain the number-one choice.

RN: Utilities and other energy companies primarily exist to serve customers. Technology advances allow customers to use less energy and to substitute other energy sources. Energy companies can either focus on customer needs as a business opportunity or other companies will provide more services to our customers. The choice seems easy.

CM: What is the most unique way you have seen a company adapt to changing customer expectations?

DH: The mobile apps that we and other utilities have deployed put billing, usage and outage information into the palms of our customers’ hands. It’s one of many ways that utilities are leveraging new technology to satisfy our customers’ changing communication and information needs.

RN: Southern California Edison is better anticipating and accommodating our customers’ interest in how their energy is supplied. For instance, we are helping our customers install solar panels much more quickly. This fundamental shift is driven largely by customer expectations.

CM: What key market influences do you expect will shape the energy landscape in the near future?

DH: Technology continues to transform energy production and customer usage. On the production side, change is being driven by the new capabilities and lower cost of renewable energy, as well as improved natural gas recovery. Customers have a growing interest in efficiency and sustainability, which creates demand for advanced, behind-the-meter usage controls and other improvements.

RN: Market changes driven by technological advances (and the falling prices of those technologies) will create customer demand for choices beyond what electric and gas companies and their delivery systems offer today. Some of these changes will happen sooner than others, and their geographic penetration will vary based on government policy, population density and regional preferences. But these changes will happen.

CM: In response to these influences, what is one step an energy company should take to adapt?

DH: We should seize opportunities to add both flexibility and optionality into our business. Large, long-term investments should be replaced with smaller, more-modular options that can be adapted as business drivers change. Also, no matter your company’s current regulatory structure or business model, the need for regulatory flexibility will be key to meeting our customers’ changing expectations.

RN: Engage your leaders at all levels to look back at the changes in their role and area of responsibility in the last five years — and envision change at twice that pace in the next five years. Then challenge them to work with their peers in how to prepare for those changes.

CM: What advice would you give a new leader in our industry?

DH: Buckle up! The pace of change in our industry will only increase over the next few years. It will be critical that our leaders actively take the reins and lead — not just manage — the transformation.

RN: First, get as broad of experience as you can in our industry. Become familiar with the challenges and functions of your company and the industry. Be open to that variety in experience, which at times may mean lateral moves to round out your leadership capabilities, not just promotions. Second, anticipate and embrace that change.

Join us this September in Tucson, Arizona, for WEI’s Annual Meeting to hear energy leaders from across Western North America discuss similar questions and share their insights. Visit the Annual Meeting page for program details.