Aspen Meadows Resort
Admittedly, it is no great sacrifice to visit Aspen, Colorado, in the fall, but the utility industry professionals from Colorado and nearby states who are making the trip Sept. 19-21 are not coming to enjoy the scenery. They are coming for the Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange to meet their colleagues and industry allies and talk frankly about the triumphs and failures, goals and challenges of their jobs.
This unique forum has been drawing strong crowds of visionaries and idea people from energy and water utilities, nonprofits and technology vendors for 12 years, and shows no sign of slowing down.
Finding opportunity in challenge
The theme for 2018, “United we understand,” emphasizes the collaborative nature of the conference, and holds one key to why it continues to grow in popularity. The theme resonates with WAPA Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman. “The past model for doing business, where utilities rarely talked amongst themselves, let alone with consumers, won’t work in today’s industry,” he said. Horstman is on the RMUE planning committee and WAPA is a sponsor of the event.
“Consumers expect to have more choice in their services, and that includes their electricity. Providing those options to customers creates opportunities for utilities to build and manage load and develop new products, while meeting environmental goals,” Horstman went on. “But the industry is going to have to communicate with their customers, their communities, equipment vendors and other power providers to realize those opportunities.”
The communication begins Wednesday morning with the Utility and Government Agency Roundtable. Representatives from those entities will share the topics they would most like to discuss and the one thing they would most like to learn during the exchange. Following a break, industry allies are free to join the discussion. This roundtable is for people who are not ready to make a formal presentation but definitely have something to talk about.
Highlighting industry trends
The agenda shifts into high gear following lunch. Opening keynote speaker Ann Dougherty of market research firm Illume Advising will be asking utilities to look at their own marketing efforts and question whether they are positioned to innovate. This will be Dougherty’s first time speaking at the RMUE.
The State of Energy Consumers Today will be presented by another newcomer, Nathan Shannon of Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative. Shannon will draw on Smart Energy’s 2017 research projects for insights into what today’s consumers want and real-life examples of consumer engagement successes.
The rest of the day’s presentations read like a laundry list of trends that have morphed into looming challenges: utility-led distributed solar programs, climate action plan development, collaborations to expand utility programs’ reach and beneficial electrification. You will learn how other power providers have engaged, rather than resisted these issues to build successful programs.
Thursday morning, RMUE continues with variations on a theme (working together). Sessions examine programs and initiatives that integrate customer experience and community input. Consumers are clearly no longer content to passively accept the electricity coming down their wires. Environmental concerns are pushing them to demand more options and new technology is giving them the power to take more control of their energy use. Hear from utilities and their partners that abandoned the old model of a one-way relationship to find ways to harness efficiency as a resource, manage loads more effectively and help their communities fight and mitigate climate change.
In the afternoon, the agenda splits into dual tracks, giving you the chance to delve into topics in more detail with smaller groups. See if you can identify the subtext. In the first set of tracks, you can explore either customer engagement (communicating with customers) or the technology of the internet of things (communicating with customers through smart devices). The final dual-track sessions look at energy as a service, not a product (communicating with customers in a new way) and reaching hard-to-reach customers (communicating with customers who don’t make it easy).
If you are looking for even more detail than the dual-track sessions provide, get ready for the Friday workshops. Choose from three different sessions:
- Electrifying Transportation: Developing Integrated Charging Networks for Electric Vehicles – Explore the role of utilities and government in electrifying the transportation sector.
- Customer Experiences Workshop: Journey Mapping – Customer journey mapping provides a framework that can break down departmental barriers that limit a program’s potential. Each workshop participant will represent a different contributor in “our” utility during the workshop.
- Community Goals Meet Utility Realities: Developing Best Practices for an Evolving Landscape – This facilitated discussion is an opportunity for local government and utility leaders to communicate directly about understanding and advancing community renewable and energy efficiency goals.
Keep talking—to each other
As past attendees will tell you, the sessions are only half of what makes the RMUE such a great conference. Great speakers may bring in attendees, but networking opportunities and relationship building bring them back year after year.
The receptions keep conversations going after the end of the day in a casual atmosphere. The Wednesday night networking event is built around a poster session that allows you to learn more about products, services and programs that might fit into your operations. It also includes heavy hors oeuvres if you want to make a meal of it, rescue animals for the kids and this year, ice-breaker games. This is a family-friendly event and family members can attend for the friendly price of free.
Thursday night, the RMUE goes off-campus to the town of Aspen and the historic Hotel Jerome.
Every refreshment break and meal offers you a chance to ask speakers and colleagues questions, to bounce ideas off other sharp minds and to load up on high-quality calories. Breakfast, lunch and break snacks are included in the price of registration, and the food is terrific.
Since the food is so abundant and delicious, you may want to pack your comfortable “business casual” attire—the RMUE is a “no-tie zone.” Those staying at the Aspen Meadows Resort also might want to pack their exercise gear as well, to take advantage of the onsite Aspen Health Club.
The Aspen Meadows RMUE room bloc has filled up, but overflow lodging at the Hotel Aspen and the Molly Gibson Lodge in town is still available. You can also contact Liz Pellerin at Aspen Meadows to get on a waiting list in case there are any room cancellations.