Senior Vice President, Chief Sustainability Officer, NiSource Inc.
October 05, 2023
It would be an understatement to say energy utilities play a critical role in the lives of those who live and work in the communities we serve. We use this energy—which we generally take for granted as we go about our daily activities—to heat, cool and illuminate our homes and workplaces, cook our food, power our devices and connect us to the larger world. It is, in fact, an indispensable resource.
While a large portion of this energy continues to be generated using traditional processes, an increasing share of it comes to us via a fast-growing variety of new-generation and emerging technologies. Additionally, in the future, with the recent breakthrough in nuclear fusion energy technology, the possibility of clean energy sources will continue to evolve.
This shift to new energy technologies is a complex task. Not only must utilities continue to leverage existing infrastructure to satisfy the current requirements of their commercial, industrial and residential customers, but they must also simultaneously set about modernizing systems and creating new solutions that are scalable, cost-efficient, and environmentally and economically sustainable.
It is important to understand that while different groups of energy stakeholders may have different needs, they also have a shared interest in the development and deployment of new energy solutions that may benefit some stakeholders today and a broader range of users in the days ahead. And identifying these overlapping interests can serve as an important tool for mapping the path forward.
Utilities—as members of this broader community—are responsible for ensuring they make the most of every opportunity to expand and develop safe, reliable and sustainable energy. In fact, the best way to honor and protect the interests of utility customers in this new era of energy is to pursue sustainable, environmentally sound energy solutions. In this regard, stakeholder engagement is crucial.
At NiSource, we understand that we must put all our customers—our residential, commercial and business customers and their communities—at the center of all we do. We believe that utilities have a responsibility to provide the best, most reliable and sustainable service available to all their customers on a fair and equitable basis.
How NiSource plans for the future is intentionally labeled, “Your Energy, Your Future,” because it’s a future that we all share. And the decisions we make have an equal and lasting effect on the customers and communities we serve, just as much as they have on our company.
Engagement is an essential part of the Your Energy, Your Future initiative. That’s because varied stakeholders generate a broad and diverse set of important ideas that utilities can leverage in building a resilient energy system to best serve the needs of customers—both now and in the years ahead.
We believe that utilities must serve as facilitators—soliciting, collecting and examining vital information from customers across their service areas in order to identify connections between the needs of various stakeholder groups. By working to tease out and understand these shared needs and interests, utilities gain the ability to act on this information to maximize benefits to some stakeholders in the short term, and to plan pathways for extending those benefits to an even broader set of energy consumers in the future.
At NiSource, for example, our examination of information collected through this kind of stakeholder outreach provided us with an opportunity to help advance the Port of Indiana’s efforts to electrify portions of its vehicle fleet—and simultaneously assist an electric trucking company’s effort to establish a hub using shared infrastructure.
By working to address and satisfy the energy needs and goals shared by unrelated stakeholders, utilities can cultivate a level of operational synergy that strengthens overall energy resilience for all customers and their communities. That is why it is important for utilities to embrace their roles as facilitators, remain sensitive to the needs of all of those they serve and look closely for useful connections between stakeholder groups.
It is undeniable that information gathered through robust outreach generates insights that are essential to utilities’ efforts to provide safe, reliable and sustainable energy services. Through this approach, energy utilities can anticipate and address the many economic, environmental, technological and regulatory challenges they face on a daily basis. By cultivating and facilitating trust and cooperation among all stakeholders, energy utilities can design a balanced path forward into our shared energy future and ensure that all users can enjoy the benefits of that future on an equitable basis.