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View of a brightly lit Santa Clara, California, skyline

Beyond the Traditional Utility Business

Feb. 28, 2019
SVP focusing on clean energy and emerging technologies to build stronger customer partnerships

On July 23, 1896, the city of Santa Clara, California, U.S., Board of Town Trustees authorized the creation of the municipal electric utility. More than 120 years later — in March 1998 — the electric utility took the name Silicon Valley Power (SVP).  The name change was in recognition of the vital role our utility plays in serving a growing community of innovation and technology, as SVP powers some of the largest world-class high-tech companies.

Today, SVP works hard to provide our community with reliable electricity and attentive customer service. As a city-owned, not-for-profit municipal electric utility, we deliver quality power to our customers at rates averaging 15-45% lower than the rates in neighboring cities. In March 2013, we became the first electric utility in the United States to provide free city-wide outdoor internet access for all residents and visitors. 

As a municipal utility, we run a socially and environmentally responsible business and partner with our customers and the broader community to promote and support environmental and social goals. We currently provide more than 44% of Santa Clara’s electricity from carbon-free renewable resources.  In addition to using green energy from large-scale wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric projects outside of the area, we employ innovative ways to produce electricity locally by capturing and burning methane gas from a closed city landfill and using power from solar generating systems on city-owned garages and vacant, unusable land. 

SVP’s Strategy

The city of Santa Clara, California, City Council on Dec. 4 unanimously adopted SVP’s 2018 Strategic Plan that will address the challenges facing the utility over the next 10 years. The plan allows the city of Santa Clara’s electric utility to be agile, transparent and accountable as SVP prepares for future challenges. Since our beginnings, SVP has grown to become the fourth largest not-for-profit electric utility in California.

Through the 10-year strategic plan, SVP developed more than 30 strategic initiatives in four distinct areas:

  • Utility Performance Excellence – The Effective Business Process Management Initiative will evaluate, enhance and document critical business processes, and implement the improved processes. The initiative will maintain continuous improvement through periodic review protocols with data from utility benchmarking partners.
  • Customer Engagement and Satisfaction – This initiative acknowledges the need to routinely and fully communicate with stakeholders/customers and collect their feedback on the opportunities and challenges facing their utility. The upcoming Customer Portal Initiative aims to enhance methods of customer engagement with a more convenient, 24/7 online access to current usage along with detailed information to track energy uses, schedule customer alerts and online bill payment.
  • Progress & Innovation Focus – This strategic area requires targeted and dedicated staff resources to filter and vet creative project ideas and emerging technologies on a regular basis, eliminate or approve concepts, and generate actionable plans. The planned five-year Technology Strategic Plan initiative will enable a cross-cutting team to develop a comprehensive plan and roadmap, focusing on utility technology deployments that will improve day-to-day operations and enable the integration of emerging technology on the grid.
  • Community and Environmental Stewardship – This initiative focuses on SVP’s leadership role in the City’s Smart City Planning, and alignment with broader community goals related to energy, sustainability and the City’s Climate Action Plan

The Planning Process

We engaged broadly with our employees, customers and city stakeholders to determine the strategic direction of SVP. Much of this outreach and interaction occurred at the beginning of the planning process as we gathered the “themes” informing the Strategic Plan through many interviews and meetings. Throughout the entire process, we brought together a core team of employees to help develop and provide feedback on the components of the plan and communicated our progress to the rest of SVP and city leadership along the way. In addition to looking closely at SVP and how we operate today, we examined trends in the industry to understand how we need to change to prepare for the future.

In the coming years, the electric industry will face challenges in technology and innovations, changing energy mix, increased customer expectations, California policy and regulations, and workforce. There is a growing need to reform the utility business model, including the alignment of investments, rates and financial incentives.

To maintain competitive advantage, respond to the changing landscape and deliver an outstanding customer experience, SVP must continue to go beyond our traditional electric service. We will focus on offering products and services that are innovative, intuitive and engaging. We will take advantage of clean energy and emerging technologies while building stronger customer partnerships, to realize our vision of a sustainable and resilient community.

In the changing market, utilities also face increased competition from third parties offering energy solutions to customers.  SVP will be working toward a new role in this ecosystem, which will require creativity, innovation, end-to-end strategy and a strengthening of our existing operations.

About the Author

Kevin Kolnowski

Kevin Kolnowski is assistant director of Transmission and Distribution at Silicon Valley Power.

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