EDITOR' S NOTE: Calvin Butler, Baltimore Gas and Electric's chief executive officer, participated in a discussion on the future of electric power at Oracle's Industry Connect event in Washington last week moderated by The Energy Times' content director, Marty Rosenberg. He responded to our questions in advance of the event.
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Energy Times: What will be the main changes in the utility business model in the next decade?
Butler: Customers’ desires and demands are changing rapidly and the utility model must adapt to meet them. In BGE’s case, as I mentioned, we are almost 200 years old. Much of our distribution system was installed during the housing building boom that followed World War II and it must now be upgraded or completely replaced in some cases. Our customers are also looking for us to continue improving system reliability to withstand the major storms we have been experiencing in recent years. These storms are also a contributor to customer interest in generating their own power. We have seen a significant jump in the number of applications for interconnections per year, and this will likely continue to grow. In 2014, we received three times the number of applications than the previous year. Right now, BGE has more than 63 megawatts of customer generation connected to our system, with more than 6,000 net metering customers, primarily solar. Utilities should also be prepared to support combined heat and power technology. In 2012, BGE launched the Combined Heat and Power program; open to all nonresidential BGE electric service customers, including industrial, commercial, government, institutional and nonprofits. The CHP Program offers up to $2.5 million in incentives for qualifying combined heat and power projects that were commissioned and operational by the end of 2014. At BGE, we want to continue to work with customers, communities and all involved parties to ensure the interconnection and operations are safe and reliable. We are also working with our customers as they pilot new technologies and operating models, for example, linking solar and storage on the system.
Energy Times: How hard will it be for utilities and energy companies to pivot and change their culture to deal with change?
Butler: Culture change is never a fast process, in any organization or industry. For the utility and energy industry, we have additional considerations including a highly-regulated environment and a traditionally conservative outlook. However, with our customer needs changing as rapidly as they are, our industry is already undergoing a culture change. For example, BGE was also an early adopter, as far as the utility industry, of communicating with our customers via social media. We currently have more than 60,000 total followers on Twitter and Facebook with the numbers growing almost monthly. We use social media to promote our programs and company news, but also to hear from customers about their questions and concerns. During storms, we also staff our channels on a 24 hour basis, to update customers about the general – and sometimes specific – restoration status, and also to let them know that we are going through this experience with them and doing all we can to safely restore their power.