Utility of the Year: Austin Energy
"Customer Driven. Community Focused."
Approx. 12,000 miles of power lines, 150,000 utility poles, 78,000 transformers, 60 distribution substations and 12 transmission substations.
65% renewable energy by 2027.
There's been significant buzz around smart development in Austin, TX. The city, which hosted the Smart Cities Connect show in June and is now being touted as a potential location for Amazon HQ2, has made strides this year in mobility, tech and integrated government.
Yet there's one specific department that has elevated the city to an exemplary status of how metropolitan areas around the nation can execute smart advancements while maintaining a broad understanding of citizen needs: Austin Energy.
This year alone, Austin Energy has worked to set ambitious clean energy goals, add storage, support distributed generation and electric vehicles, and advance customer service offerings — all while restoring power in areas hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
"We're comparing ourselves not necessarily to other utilities, but other service providers," Deborah Kimberly, vice president of customer energy solutions, told Utility Dive in an interview earlier this year. And, as the eighth-largest publicly owned utility with more than 460,000 customers, that mentality is crucial.
Austin's target for renewable energy by 2027 — one of the most ambitious clean energy goals in the nation.
In an effort to elevate this customer-first approach, Austin Energy released in September a new mobile communication tool for customers to use during outages, with features including an outage map, push alerts and a function to report outages via text message. The app is the result of customers' requests for a better mobile experience — and is available to both English and Spanish speaking customers.
However, an arguably more important advancement this year was the city's push to increase access to solar. In January, Austin residents were given the option to join the Austin Energy Community Solar program and meet 100% of their electricity needs through solar, all without needing to install solar panels on their roofs. The utility's broad solar program, including the Austin SHINES project, garnered recognition from the C40 Cities Bloomberg Philanthropies Awards 2017.
Also this year, Austin launched an electric transportation hub called "Electric Drive" to celebrate five years of success with the Austin Energy Plug-In EVerywhere Program. The hub now acts as a dedicated EV charging station and kiosk for electric bike and scooter charging, and is just one step toward a "fundamental change" in the way people move around Austin, according to Council Member Ann Kitchen.
Moving into 2018, Austin Energy is expected to continue to push itself toward standards that exceed those of its municipal peers across Texas and beyond. The city has already expressed an interest in expanding its fleet of city-owned electric vehicles, and efforts will surely be made toward reaching targets for renewables. If Austin Energy continues to leverage more technologically-advanced initiatives to increase communication and connectivity, it will maintain its status as a role model municipal utility in years to come.
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