Idealistic: big, bold, and ultimately unachievable. 

According to Simon Sinek in his book The Infinite Game, that’s the fifth characteristic of a Just Cause and it clearly applies to the Just Cause of providing clean, affordable, reliable, and safe electricity to every human being on the planet.

Big and bold are great words – don’t we all want to be part of big and bold endeavors? But don’t be bothered by the “ultimately unachievable” part of the definition. It doesn’t mean we are laboring in vain with respect to this Just Cause and it doesn’t mean our efforts are quixotic. Here’s what Simon says about that:

  • “No matter how much we have achieved, we always feel we have further to go. Think of a Just Cause like an iceberg. All we ever see is the tip of that iceberg, the things we have already accomplished. With each success, a little more of the iceberg is revealed to others; the vision becomes more visible to others. And when others can see a vision become something real, skeptics become believers, and even more people feel inspired by the possibility and willingly commit their time and energy, ideas, and talents to help advance the Cause further. But no matter how much of the iceberg we can see, our leaders have the responsibility to remind us that the vast majority still lies unexplored. For no matter how much success we may enjoy, the Just Cause for which we are working lies ahead and not behind.”

So how do we drive forward and inspire others to commit their time and energy, ideas, and talents to advance this Just Cause? In this article, I’ll offer three suggestions and as someone who has worked in PowerPoint far too long I will present them in a graphic:


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1. Data and Analytics

Long before marketers coined the term “big data”, utilities were working with large amounts of data. That’s why back in 1976 – the year SAS was founded – three utilities were among our initial set of customers (you can read about that in this interview with SAS’ Founder and CEO Dr. Jim Goodnight).

Over the course of the last 30 years, advances in technology have resulted in data deluges for numerous industries – RFID and Point of Sale for Retail/CPG, Detailed Call Records for Telco, digital medical records for Healthcare, the Industrial Internet of Things for Manufacturing, and of course smart meters for Utilities. And for all of these industries, the steadily declining cost of sensors and ubiquitous internet connectivity means that the data available for analysis will continue to increase dramatically year over year.

What will all this data mean to the Utility of the future? Navigant Research’s 2017 paper “Defining the Digital Future of Utilities: Grid Intelligence for the Energy Cloud in 2030” (an outstanding piece of thought leadership that has aged remarkably well) made these predictions:

  • “Data is as valuable a commodity as electrons. While in 2017 the industry struggled to maximize the value of enterprise data, in 2030 the energy supply chain is fully digitized and its efficient operation is heavily based on analytics-based automation. Data flows both to and from a customer, informing AI algorithms within smart contracts of the optimum time to store excess generation, sell it to the grid, participate in DR programs, etc. Data from a customer’s premise feeds DER management platforms, informs market operators of consumption and production, and alerts potential customers of when and how much power the prosumer can export.”
  • “The electricity industry relies on the flow of three things in 2030: cash, electrons, and data. Data flows both to and from a customer, informing AI algorithms within smart contracts of the optimum time to store excess generation, sell it to the grid, participate in DR programs, etc. Data from a customer’s premise feeds DER management platforms, informs market operators of consumption and production, and alerts potential customers of when and how much power the prosumer can export.”

At SAS we believe that data without analytics is a value not yet realized. In the case of clean, affordable, reliable, and safe electricity, data without analytics will be a Just Cause not advanced. This is a Just Cause that needs analytics that follows the data…whether it’s at rest or in motion…and whether it’s on-premises, in the cloud, or at the edge. It needs democratized analytics that can be used by people of all skill levels throughout the organization, particularly those with deep domain knowledge. It needs advanced analytics such as AI, optimization, and forecasting and it needs governed analytic models that can be deployed quickly and at scale.

Duke Energy developed this graphic a few years ago and it quickly became my favorite illustration of the need for analytics to cope with complexity and uncertainty facing the electric utility of the future.


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You can see the graphic in its original context (an interview with Ron Schoff of EPRI) here: The evolution of energy: What’s next?.

Complexity and uncertainty are perceived as negative terms to some people…but not to SAS. We thrive on business problems and opportunities that are characterized as complex and uncertain. After all, if the world was a simple and predictable place, our company wouldn’t exist.

Want to keep up with how analytics are helping our customers deal with complexity and uncertainty and advancing the Just Cause of clean, affordable, reliable, and safe electricity? Then tune in (and subscribe!) to a podcast series recently launched by SAS titled Electrifying AI. Join my SAS colleagues Sal Gill and Simon Hughes for informed, insightful commentary on your favorite podcast platform: AppleGoogleStitcherSpotify, or YouTube.

2. Talent and Innovation

I’ve been supporting the Energy industry at SAS for over 10 years and in that time I’ve seen firsthand many great examples of how our colleges and universities such as the University of Idaho, NC State, UNC Charlotte, UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University, Clemson University, Texas State University, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Technology Sydney are equipping a workforce for the energy industry of tomorrow.

I have had the privilege to visit places such the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) at UNC Charlotte, the Duke Energy Smart Grid Lab, Dr. Tao Hong’s Big Data Energy Analytics Lab, the FREEDM Systems Center at NC State, the Watt Family Innovation Center at Clemson, and the Cisco-SAS IoT Innovation Lab at the University of Technology Sydney.

I have participated in Duke University’s Energy Mix which (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) brought students together with representatives of industry on a monthly basis. I always came away from those events with an unbounded sense of optimism about the future of the industry.

I spent three weeks at the University of Idaho in 2012 at the 58th annual Energy Executive Course where I joined over 50 current and future leaders of the industry under the instruction of a world-class faculty drawn from both academia and industry. A big tip of the cap to Craig Johnston for recommending the course to me when I visited him at OGE in 2011. I’m delighted to be one of the 2,793 people who have been through the course from 1954-2019 and it’s always a pleasure to run across fellow alumni of the program. ETS2019 provided an opportunity for a reunion with two of my classmates from the class of 2012 – Dan Smith of LCRA and Larry Bekkedahl of Portland General Electric.


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How do we build a pipeline of talent and ensure that the Energy industry gets its share of the best and brightest students? One of the answers is STEM…and specifically making sure that STEM students are aware of the fundamental importance of energy to every sector of the economy and of the significant technical challenges that go along with a zero-carbon energy supply.

I’m proud to work for a company with a focus on education at all levels including in its corporate philanthropy. Dr. Goodnight wrote about that in a LinkedIn article titled Why is an analytics software company making K-12 curriculum resources? and he heads an Education Task Force for the CEO Business Roundtable focused on closing the skills gap in the American workforce. His wife Ann shares his passion for education. In 2018, the Public School Forum of North Carolina recognized Ann with the Jay Robinson Education Leadership Award and she was declared “North Carolina’s No.1 citizen and leader for education for all time to come” by former Governor Jim Hunt.

In December of 2019, STEM RTP, the STEM education initiative of Research Triangle Park, was honored with a Cleantech Talent Initiative Award at the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster’s first annual Cleantech Innovation Awards ceremony. STEM RTP leverages the large pool of talented STEM professionals in the Research Triangle region and introduces historically underserved student populations to career opportunities in STEM. This quote from Dr. Goodnight appeared in a press release from STEM RTP announcing the award: “Our children want to live in a world with clean energy, clean water, and clean transportation. At SAS, we believe that data and analytics can make lives better through new ideas and new opportunities. We congratulate STEM RTP on fostering a more diverse workforce that brings fresh perspectives to the challenges facing our communities.”

On December 9, 2020, the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC) will hold its annual meeting which will include the ceremony announcing the winners of the 2020 Cleantech Innovation Awards. If you get excited and inspired hearing about what industry and academia are doing to prepare the cleantech workforce of tomorrow, register for the meeting here (it’s free for RTCC members and $25 for non-members) and mark your calendars for noon-1:30 EST on December 9.

3. Curiosity

Human beings are born curious. It’s in our nature. Simon Sinek understands and appreciates the importance of curiosity when he says “Creativity comes from curiosity. The more curious you are about the world, the more you experience and learn. The more you experience and learn, the more connections your brain is able to make. And with more connections, you can find new solutions to problems or see things no one else can see.”

At SAS, curiosity is our code. We believe that curiosity is at the heart of human progress and since the founding of the company in 1976 we have worked to enable exploration and discovery and to encourage people to believe no data problem is too great, no question is too complex and that the search for answers will lead to positive change. Sometimes that change is for the wellbeing of individuals…sometimes it’s for the communities in which we live…and sometimes it’s for the entire planet.

Big, bold, idealistic Just Causes need the new discoveries that will inevitability result when curiosity meets capability.