Two recent stories suggest that traditional energy utilities are changing how they deal with their public image.
Edison International—the parent company of Southern California Edison, one of the largest electrical utilities in the US— announced that it’s starting a new business to do energy consulting and management. Its aim is to “help create this market for what one might call Energy-as-a-Service.” In other words, this business will work to help utilities manage the transition from a monopoly to a complex, competitive industry. Today, utilities need to know how to respond to competition from things that challenge their business model like rooftop solar, and learn how to incorporate utility-scale renewable projects like wind farms.
On a related—but slightly less honorable—front, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) is leading a charge to rebrand utilities. In order to improve their public image, they have hired a crisis communications expert.
With policy battles between utilities and clean energy being waged across the country, the industry is feeling vulnerable to attacks. One suggestion was to apparently co-opt the term “community solar.”Currently, this term refers to a solar panel or farm owned by a large group of small investors who would be otherwise unable to afford panels (like residents of a housing complex, or multiple businesses combining money to purchase panels.)
Apparently, the utility industry is considering using the term to replace “utility-scale solar,” because according to EEI’s Brian Wolff, utility-scale solar “sounds like the utilities are going to be in complete control” whereas community solar “really resonated with customers.”
Looking at these two different approaches, it’s clear that while some utilities are changing the way they’re perceived by changing the way they do business, others are just trying to play word games with the public.
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