Where is the Amazon, Apple, Google or Facebook of the US electricity sector? That is the question posed by NRG Energy CEO David Crane, in an open letter to his staff (republished here by Greentech Media) this week.
In reference to what he describes as the “four companies that will inherit the earth,” Crane bemoans the fact that there is not yet a company in the US energy space to match the members of this quartet, or their ability to enable, connect, relate and empower, that sets them far above the pack.
Crane is not just talking out of his hat. He heads the biggest independent generation company in the US (His generation capacity of 46GW is nearly the size of Australia’s entire grid), and he has long been of the leading thinkers about the impending change in electricity and energy markets.
The missing link, he says, is the absence of any connection between the utility and the consumer.
“There is no energy company that connects the consumer with their own energy-generating potential,” writes Crane; that enables the consumer to make their own energy choices, empowers the individual, or that the consumer can partner with to combat global warming without compromising the “plugged-in” lifestyle we all aspire to.
(Morgan Stanley this week mentioned NRG as providing not just solar, but also gas-fired stirling engines to help take households, businesses and communities off grid).
As it happens, Crane thinks NRG Energy can fill this void, and “achieve the level of quality and ubiquity of energy outcomes… that would one day cause us to be mentioned in the same breath” as the four chosen companies.
In turn, he say, NRG’s customers could expect to have a vastly improved electricity experience; and shareholders a value creation on par with the above four companies which, at present, have an aggregate market capitalization of over $1 trillion.
And Crane seems to have the vision. Indeed, Jim Rogers – the recently retired head of America’s biggest utility, Duke Energy – told Energy Biz Magazine in January that he would quite like to come back as Crane, should he decide to return to the industry.
Clarifying, Rogers added: “I would come into the industry as someone who is an attacker, not a defender. I’d want the solar on the rooftop. I’d want to run that. …I’d want the ability to deploy new technologies that lead to productivity gains to the use of electricity in homes and businesses. I would go after the monopoly that I see weakened over the last 25 years.”
Enter Crane: “As growing lack of confidence in the grid coincides with the introduction of new technologies, businesses and homeowners will realize that there is a better way. And, for them, that means generating most of the electricity they consume on the premises, from their own resources. In this new reality, our “mass” retail electricity franchise, consisting of Reliant, Green Mountain and NRG itself, becomes ever more important.
Her are some more excerpts from Crane’s call to arms:
We expect to be soon to market with a robust platform offering rooftop solar to homes and businesses and other forms of sustainable and clean generation that will offer our customers the ability to dramatically reduce their dependence on system power from the centralized grid.
And for the customer, business or individual who simply wants nothing to do with the grid, the centralized control it represents and the inhibition of individual choice and restriction of personal freedom that is implicit in being “inter-tied” to the grid, there is the post-grid future — a future that is driven by renewables, incorporating both energy storage and sophisticated localized automation to balance production and load.
There will be systems that harness thermal and electric synergies and across not only clean energy, but also fresh water production, waste disposal and electrified transportation to create a virtuous circle of civil sustainability.
…Now we have the technology — actually, the suite of technologies — and they are safe, reliable and affordable as well as sustainable. They do not represent a compromise to our ability to enjoy a modern lifestyle. They represent an opportunity for us to do the right thing while multiplying shareholder value through greater value-added services. And these technological solutions are focused on the individual consumer — both businesses and individuals — so the shameful passivity and failure to act of government is irrelevant.