One day


Published In: Intelligent Utility Magazine July/August 2009


LINCOLN ELECTRIC SYSTEM (LES), WHICH SERVES Lincoln, Neb., has low electricity rates and a very reliable system. So why are they looking at a smart grid and a one-day event to help explain it?


The world is changing and according to J. Todd Hall, vice president of consumer services, LES needs to design a prudent vision to adapt to the rapidly changing environment. For example, ''people are looking at adding more renewables, and energy conservation efforts are becoming more popular,'' he said. ''There are a lot of things going on that continue to push us to develop a new vision.'' A smarter grid is one of the components LES is considering in this vision, ''but we need to pause to make sure we are being prudent, to make sure we serve our customers well.''


LES is in the process of planning a one-day event in Lincoln to better educate key stakeholders about a smarter grid. ''We need to make sure that we involve the public in the whole idea of the smart grid and what is happening in the energy industry as a whole,'' Hall said. Some things that could be happening in the industry are a little bit more risky for LES—like carbon cap and trade. ''Based on our models, carbon cap-and-trade programs could impact our rates by 30 to 35 percent,'' he said. ''Do we want to go down this sort of path blindly? No.''

Effectively dealing with changes like this requires getting many key stakeholders involved. ''We plan on bringing in knowledgeable industry experts and other Nebraska utilities, along with the public, our board of directors, and national, state and local politicians,'' noted Hall.

However, a key challenge in bringing these disparate groups together to discuss energy issues and a smarter grid is getting them to understand highly technical topics. ''At a Friday afternoon club, you don't typically grab a nice beverage, visit about the week, and then launch into a discussion about the smart grid,'' said Hall. ''People's eyes glaze over—especially when you start talking about the technical issues. So, a key question is: how chief of do we develop a common understanding of highly technical components that can be easily understood by a variety of folks?''

For LES, it starts with the right group of internal people. ''Planning the event is under my guidance, but we have a number of people participating in the effort,'' Hall said. ''We have a cross-divisional group including our energy delivery group and customer operations.'' With this group, LES's strategy is to take the complicated mix of smart grid, energy conservation and climate change, and talk about it in terms of utility industry transformation—all in an easy-to-understand manner. Of course, this will be no simple task, but one that LES feels is important to take on.

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