Driving Innovation

Problem Solving to Deliver Smarter Energy Solutions

April 26, 2016

These days, it seems like every company is laying claim to being innovative. But what does that mean and why should you care?

In the energy industry, innovation can center on new technologies, but at its core, innovation is about problem-solving.

Every day here at ComEd, we challenge ourselves to find opportunities to improve the way we do business and deliver electrical power to our nearly 4 million customers in Northern Illinois. We look to solve problems and improve customers’ lives, from avoiding power outages to saving money and helping them “go green.”

The advancement of technology and the increasing ability we have to communicate one-on-one with our customers has created an environment for innovative transformation. And it’s why we empower our employees and partners to come forward with any idea – big or small – that might improve the lives of our customers.

Take for example the SmartGridExchange – a forum that brings together entrepreneurs, technology start-ups, universities and customers to explore and design new products and solutions that harness the intelligence of the smart grid and smart meters. The program, which we created and have nurtured since 2014, has led to key partnerships with technology companies such as NestLabs, with its smart thermostats, and Bidgely, which has developed ground-breaking analytics that can itemize home energy usage data to the appliance level and help customers make smart energy saving decisions. Through the SmartGridExchange, we can continue to develop real solutions for our customers, such as smart appliances, programmable thermostats, remote controlled lighting and more, to help them gain access to energy usage information faster than ever before.

Innovation is also about putting problem-solving to the test in the field. For example, we launched a pilot program in partnership with MeterGenius to offer 6,500 ComEd customers with smart meters the opportunity to participate in a six-month pilot that provides them with access to web and mobile energy-cutting tools will help them manage their energy use and save money.

But innovation and problem solving aren’t just happening around the smart grid.

We are also embracing technology and creative thinking to develop new products and services that will meet our customers’ changing expectations for tomorrow. Take for example, the fact that ComEd is the first utility to receive Federal Aviation Administration approval for operational use of unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) to inspect electrical delivery lines. When you hear UAS, you may think “drone”, but that’s not what we call these robots here at ComEd! Using this technology, we can save time and costs, helping to identify problems earlier – and prevent problems from occurring.

To add to a growing list of “firsts”, we are also pioneering new microgrid technology – a localized power grid that has the ability to disconnect from the grid to operate autonomously and help mitigate grid disturbances to strengthen grid resiliency – made possible by a $1.2M grant from the Department of Energy. We’re partnering with leading universities, national labs and industry experts to build a master controller to operate clusters of microgrids, making it the first cluster of microgrids in the world. Our work in this area has the potential to power critical public infrastructure in a time of increasing weather volatility and security threats. That’s innovation that matters, helping water flow, hospitals function, and emergency services operate when it matters most.

At ComEd, we know we need to work hard to maintain the trust of our customers, and we are committed to being a creative, innovative partner to them as we power lives.