Transforming Customer Experience Through Innovation and Technology

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(photo courtesy Duke Energy) (photo courtesy Duke Energy)

Duke Energy provides safe, reliable power 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and we’ve been doing that to the best of our abilities for over 100 years. In spite of that, many of our customers only think about Duke Energy when the power goes out and when the utility bill comes.

But change is most certainly in the air.

Increasingly, our customers tell us they want more than just a once a month, one-way communication that comes in the form of an electric bill. They want more than our best efforts to keep their power flowing and when it is interrupted, get it back on as soon as possible.  They want to know more about how power is generated, what it is generated from and how they can use it more efficiently.

They want us to tell them more about a power outage – why it happened, are others affected, is my elderly parent without power and, most importantly, when will the power be back on again?  They want the ability to monitor their energy use on some regular basis and then use that information to make changes that will save them energy and money. They want to know if their bill is going to be higher than normal and for what reason.  And, they want the ability to start or stop their service with the touch of a button.

Utility customers want more convenience, more choices and more control.

That’s why we are investing more than a billion dollars over seven years to build out new technology and infrastructure to all of our 69-county service area in Indiana. This new digital technology we’re adding to modernize and improve the energy grid includes equipment and computer systems to provide meaningful and efficient communications between us and our customers. It also helps us prevent outages by using self-healing equipment to automatically isolate the impacted portion of our system and re-route power from an alternative source to as many customers as possible.

We’re investing in technology that will enable us to read meters remotely and give customers the tools they need to better monitor and understand their daily energy use. This state-of-the-art technology can also help us pinpoint outages more precisely and, as a result, help us direct crews to repair the problems more quickly and efficiently.  Estimating bills will no longer be necessary and we will be able to tell our customers the instant they lose power instead of waiting for them to tell us.  Believe it or not, that is how it is done today!

Additionally, by deploying these new technologies, we are also building a smarter energy infrastructure to empower customers to make wiser energy decisions, while establishing an integrated energy network that will help us continue to move to a cleaner, lower-carbon and more energy-efficient world.

With more intelligence built into our grid, we can more effectively incorporate energy generated by renewable sources from the sun, the wind and the water. Not only from our own sources like the additional energy we will get from the recently approved upgrade to our Markland Hydro Station on the Ohio River or from our recently completed solar power plant at Crane naval station, but from outside sources like the wind power we purchase from a wind farm in Benton County. Intermittency of power from these sources creates the need for storage capabilities.  We have been actively and financially supportive of The Battery Innovation Center in southern Indiana to research better ways to build large-scale batteries that will help utilities smooth out the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources.

As I mentioned, change is certainly in the air. Positive change that requires a continuous, sustained, focused and intentional effort to invest in our people, equipment and technology.  Our employees are our single most important asset to making all of this happen.  The employees we have today and new employees we will hire are needed to construct and maintain this new technology infrastructure. 

The future of energy production, distribution and use is rapidly changing day by day. We are urgently working to advance these new technologies to deliver energy and information in safe, reliable and cost-effective ways to benefit our customers, our communities, and our society.

Doug Esamann is executive vice president of energy solutions for Duke Energy.

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