The idea of the utility as a service provider is increasingly important as our system evolves into a complex web of distributed (and increasingly low- and zero-carbon) resources connected through advanced data communications systems. Customers are no longer just “ratepayers” — they are people and organizations with many choices, some of which may compete with utility generation.
Reshaping our energy systems to accommodate more energy efficiency and distributed energy will require getting the policy and regulation of those systems right. It will also include changing our language to reflect the changing role of the consumer.
The job of the utility is to provide an energy service, reliably and at a reasonable price. Whether that energy comes from a distant power plant, a solar panel on their roof, or a Tesla battery hanging on the wall is usually a matter of secondary importance to the customer.
People don’t pay the electric bill because they lie awake at night hoping for kilowatts. They just want the refrigerator, the toaster, the television and the cell-phone charger to work.