Utilities have some core strengths that can be leveraged into new business opportunities. A key strength is the physical assets and infrastructure a utility owns. Some utilities have begun to deploy their existing truck fleets for landscaping and tree-trimming, or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) services. Pacific Gas & Electric has announced that it is shopping more than 70,000 transmission towers, 200,000 transmission wood poles, hundreds of buildings and 4,500 properties as potential candidates for wireless connections. This is a unique business opportunity in a fast-growing sector that wasn't available 20 years ago and is the kind of niche opportunity utilities need to seize in today's climate.
Other resources that can be leveraged by utilities include existing customer databases and relationships. These can provide the basis of a platform that the utility can use to offer services like mobile apps that allow customers to track and manage their energy usage.
Recognizing customers' interest in energy-efficient technologies, some utilities have teamed up with third-party vendors to offer solutions like smart thermostats. With a growing base of installed home solar power, there is also a potential market for utilities to provide energy storage solutions for customers.
Utilities are being forced to adapt their business models to a world in which retail electricity demand has been stagnant, and may continue to be stagnant for a number of years. The particular pathway a utility takes will be driven in part by regulations but should leverage existing expertise and resources. It's too early to tell whether the shifting demand patterns are permanent, but for the foreseeable future, utilities are going to need to come up with creative new ways to grow their businesses.