Can a company that supplies electricity really become a partner in helping customers optimize their electric use? Absolutely, says Jim Rogers, chairman, president and CEO of Duke Energy: “We can make it totally back of mind for you, and we can create huge productivity gains in the process.”
Jim Rogers’ official titles are chairman, president and CEO of Duke Energy. But he says those titles boil down to two roles: general and scout. “As general, you set goals for people and you turn them loose,” he says. The scout part he holds closer to his chest. That’s the part where he gets to meet people, gets to listen to their ideas, and gets to think about all the potentials for his industry. And he sees big, and surprising, potentials. “I think of our company as a technology company disguised as a utility,” says Rogers. Energy has been at the front of innovation, he notes. In the early 20th century, electric utilities “were the Intel, Google, Microsoft, Facebook of that era,” enabling the development of technologies from refrigeration to X-rays to MRIs, from televisions and radios to computers and the Internet. Duke Energy, based in Charlotte, N.C., supplies and delivers energy to approximately 4 million U.S. customers, representing 11 million people. Rogers sees the company’s job as being a “nimble pioneer” to help usher in new technologies, new public policies, and new ways of thinking about energy directions. “Our mission is to modernize and decarbonize our fleet,” says Rogers. “We’ll retire and replace everything by 2050 and modernize our grid, since we’re an analog grid serving a digital world.” The company’s primary vision, though, is “to make our communities the most energy efficient in the world, and to redefine our business model in the process.” Rogers spoke with Michael S. Hopkins, editor-in-chief of MIT Sloan Management Review, about why education is not sufficient to get people to do the right thing, when it’s good to give in to risk, and how Duke Energy plans to shift from being a “supplier of electricity” to an "optimizer of electricity use." You say that Duke Energy is “a technology company disguised as a utility.” What do you mean? Well, we were the first company in our industry to name a chief technology officer. We’ve looked at over 700 different technologies and actually tested the products of 100. We’ve had maybe 10 pilots, and five strategic partnerships have grown out of that.