November 1, 2016

Energy Career Trek 2016 student blog: Visiting Xcel Energy

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

During Fall Break of the 2016-17 school year, the Nicholas School Energy Club sent fifteen graduate students from the Nicholas School of the Environment, Pratt School of Engineering and Fuqua School of Business to Denver, Colorado, as part of the club's annual Career Trek. Coordinated by Master of Environmental Management (MEM) students Leah Louis-Prescott and Eleanor Johnstone, the event was supported in part by the Duke University Energy Initiative.

Below is a student's account of one of the eight companies and agencies included on the trek. Read the others.

Xcel Energy

By Joby Moss
Master of Environmental Management Candidate

On the first leg of the Nicholas School Energy Club (NSEC) Denver Career Trek, our group had the chance to stop by Xcel Energy's Denver offices and speak with two leaders in Xcel's Product Development team, Colin Lamb and Louise Song.  Xcel Energy is the regulated utility of the Denver Metro Area and also serves territories in Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North & South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.  Given Colorado's abundant wind and solar resources, as well as the state's early adoption of a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), Xcel is no stranger to implementing renewable energy sources and ranks fourth nationally among Investor Owned Utilities in renewable energy sales. As a Master of Environmental student with a passion for grid decarbonization, I was excited to see just how Xcel operated and meet with members of the product development team within the organization.

So what does product development mean in an electric utility?  Obviously, the utility isn't in the business of manufacturing goods and it essentially only sells one product—electricity—which hasn't changed in a very long time.  For an electric utility, product development means designing programs to meet mandates imposed by the state's public utilities commission (PUC), or programs in which ratepayers have shown interest.  For example, if the PUC mandates that Xcel must improve energy efficiency by 2% in the year 2017, the product development team may initiate a program of offering rebates to customers for installing LED lightbulbs.  Another example would be Xcel's Renewable Connect program which is currently being piloted in part of Xcel's territory.  The Renewable Connect program is a new rate structure that customers can opt into to receive 100% renewable energy at a price premium.  In this way, customers can invest in renewable energy development by simply switching rate plans instead of installing solar panels on their house.

Coming into the visit, I had the idea that Xcel, being a regulated utility, would be slow-moving and somewhat un-innovative. However, meeting with the very people who develop new programs for the company let me see that utilities are very up to date with the latest trends in the energy industry.  While Xcel may not be as agile as some of the Boulder startups, Xcel is certainly working to ensure its success in the future, and that future seems to be coming faster every day.  With constant new developments in the energy field, the old business models of regulated utilities are being challenged.  Xcel is working to transition into the utility of the future, and this transition is something that I personally want to be a part of.

Read about the next stop on the Denver Career Trek: RES Americas. 

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