The cover story for the July issue of American Gas discusses the ongoing progress of AGA’s Vision 2020 Strategic Planning Initiative, which was created in 2008 in order to envision and plan for our future in the year 2020 and beyond. Through a series of meetings, workshops and conference calls a number of task forces, committees and working groups comprising AGA staff, members and outside experts have examined many possible energy scenarios, utility business models and regulatory constructs to determine how natural gas utilities are likely to operate in the future, especially in a carbon-constrained environment in which increased energy efficiency and significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are a paramount national goal.
Read about AGA’s Vision 2020 Strategic Planning Initiative in the July issue of American Gas.
The good news is that, given its domestic abundance, environmental superiority and greater efficiency, natural gas, especially when used directly in America’s homes and businesses, will be the preferred fuel for years to come—and that should remain the case regardless of whatever climate change legislation Congress eventually passes. But as Vision 2020 has pointed out, there are plenty of challenges and there will be plenty of changes ahead.
For one, natural gas utilities need to re-think their traditional business model of delivering the commodity—natural gas—to homes and businesses for heating, water heating and cooking applications. That is because new competitors are already re-thinking that business model, which is another significant change that already is taking place. Today companies such as Google, Intel, Microsoft and Home Depot are developing a variety of cost-effective energy solutions, including energy efficiency and “green” products and services that reduce energy use and save customers money. The utility needs do likewise, but that starts with a better understanding of what products and services the customers will want. To that end, utilities also need to re-think their relationship with customers, evolving from service providers into partners, empowering their customers to manage their own energy use through a variety of energy efficient solutions.
This in turn means continuing to ensure that new generations of highly efficient and “energy smart” natural gas products and services are available to the customer, which requires an industry-wide effort to support technological research and development.
Vision 2020 also points out that utilities will need to re-think their relationship with their regulators. In the new carbon-constrained world in which energy efficiency and conservation are the goals, our industry will need a new regulatory construct that rewards, not penalizes, utilities for partnering with their customers to reduce natural gas use.
All in all, as the article in American Gas makes clear, a brave new world is coming and AGA’s natural gas utility members need to be prepared for it, which is one reason AGA developed the Vision 2020 Strategic Planning Initiative. The other reason was to bring our members together to share ideas, strategize, and not only get more involved with AGA, but with one another. Facilitating that involvement is one of the things AGA always has been, and always will be, very good at. In an industry facing fundamental change, it’s nice to know some things won’t change.