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German conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting a Philharmonic Orchestra in a studio recording of Strauss' opera 'Capriccio' at Kingsway Hall, London. The singers are Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Hans Hotter, Eberhard Wachter, Christa Ludwig and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. (Photo by Erich Auerbach/Getty Images)

Orchestrating the Utility of the Future

Beyond the glitz and glamour of the recent Academy Awards, there is some truly great filmmaking being recognized. While “Birdman” took home the top prize, a different film stood out to me – with lesson for the energy industry.

“Whiplash” is the story of a young drummer at one of the most prestigious music schools in the country. Through tireless work he catches the eye of a top instructor. J.K. Simmons plays a compulsive, perfection-driven conductor with bravado and a proclivity for profanity. He conducts a highly regimented collection of musicians with an ear so finely calibrated he can tell if one person is even slightly out of tune. He also knows the cadence at which every musician needs to perform and knows within milliseconds if they aren’t playing at the right pace. While I don’t condone all his methods, watching this maestro at work made me think a musical conductor is not unlike the role utilities play in the generation and distribution of electricity. It too is a complex orchestra of assets that truly requires an experienced conductor’s touch.

With their unmatched understanding of the grid and existing consumer relationships, utilities are in the best position to continue as the conductor of what is becoming a very complex energy orchestra. While I can understand the interest of non-traditional companies grappling for a piece of the energy pie – and some will most certainly carve out an important piece – I strongly believe that traditional utilities will remain our most trusted energy advisors. Now that is not to say they can continue with the status quo. To the contrary, utilities need to evolve to more of a tailored services model. For those looking to do the latter, here are three pieces of advice:

Adopt a competitive mindset. Consumers are being presented with more choice. Whether from solar providers or companies like Google and Comcast, traditional utilities don’t have a monopoly anymore. Even if in a regulated market, engage with and treat each customer as if they could be lost to a competing service.

Personalize the experience. One way to be more competitive with other providers is to treat each customer as an individual. The industry has made great strides with segmentation and that is an excellent place to start. But it doesn't get us to the Holy Grail – marketing to the customer of one. For this, advanced data and analytics are needed, as well as a commitment to reach the consumer on their terms.

Bundle a range of services. The days of providing a single commodity – the electron – are long gone. Utilities should be delivering options like community solar to fixed bill initiatives and everything in between. Many of these services will require partnerships with other players in the energy space. Once the needs of an individual customer are understood, the opportunity to offer these more personalized products and services grow tremendously.

The conductor of “Whiplash” relies on his expertise and a tailored message to reach the young drummer. And at the end of the movie we are led to believe that he is on the verge of becoming a truly groundbreaking musician. Likewise, utilities must remain the brilliant conductors of energy as they have the expertise and history required to usher the industry into a very bright future.


Adrian Tuck


Adrian Tuck is the chief executive officer of Tendril.

Editor’s Note: Tendril is a sponsor of the March 19 Energy Times Executive Briefing in Washington, which is focused on the business transformation of utilities now underway. Adrian Tuck submitted his advertorial commentary at our request.

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