Dec 5, 2022
The energy sector is evolving at lightning speed, and customer expectations are at an all-time high. As are concerns about electricity itself – how it’s produced, how reliable it is, how much it costs, and how efficiently it’s powering our lives. So, how are utilities planning to meet expectations and address these concerns? In episode 100 of the thinkenergy podcast, we sit down with Hydro Ottawa’s Chief Customer Officer, Julie Lupinacci, to discuss what electricity customers want and the solutions we’re delivering.
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What Electricity Customers Want
customers, ottawa, working, hydro, people, electricity, programs, julie, city, planning, energy, pandemic, talk, utilities, component, industry, happening, community, cases, helping
Dan Seguin, Julie Lupinacci
Dan Seguin 00:06
This is thinkenergy, the podcast that helps you better understand the fast changing world of energy through conversations with game changers, industry leaders, and influencers. So join me, Dan Seguin, as I explore both traditional and unconventional facets of the energy industry. Hey, everyone, welcome back. Today's show marks the 100th podcast episode. Woohoo. It's hard to believe that we've already reached this milestone. I want to thank everyone that has worked behind the scenes on the show, our incredible guests who graciously share their time and expertise. And of course, dear listener, thank you for tuning into our program. It's truly been an honor for me to share information about the energy sector and all of the amazing people that work in this industry. So with that, let's get on with today's 100th podcast episode. As we discussed over many interviews, the energy landscape is evolving at lightning speed. Those innovations and changes are coming fast and furious. And there's a lot for customers to absorb. It's clear that perhaps more than at any other time in history, customers are thinking about their electricity, how it's made, how reliable it is, how much it costs, and how they can be more in control of it to power their lives. What customers want and expect is changing the electricity sector. It's changing how utilities do business, how they communicate, and what service offerings they provide. customer expectations have never been higher, and utilities must evolve, innovate and provide exceptional expertise, programs and technology to give customers what they want and expect from a modern utility from smart home tech that can help customers manage their device and overall consumption to home generation technology like solar panels, batteries for energy storage, and incentives for installing goes renewables and even how to better prepare for a changing climate, more storms and an increase in frequent and prolonged power outages. So, here's today's big question. How are utilities planning to meet the expectations of today's customer and their needs? Today's guest is my boss, Julie Lupinacci. As the Chief Customer Officer at Hydro Ottawa, Julie is responsible for developing and implementing the customer strategy, transforming the total customer experience and guiding the direction of the business in terms of customer needs. She provides oversight for customer service marketing, product development, external communications, Public Affairs, corporate reputation, and the overall branding strategies. With more than 15 years in Customer Care, sales and marketing, Julie has a wide background in business including project management, customer and vendor relations, international partner program management, procurement, sales, marketing, and program development. Wow. Julie, thanks for joining us today. Now, you've been in the electricity industry approximately five years now, maybe a little more in comparison to your experience with customers in other industries? How are electricity customers different? How are their needs unique?
Julie Lupinacci 04:11
Yeah, so it's been interesting. And when I when I got this question, I was thinking back on the last five years and how much I've learned about the industry and learn about our customers in particular and I would say the basis of what's different is is the industry we're in right like Hydro Ottawa is a this is essentially provides an essential service to our customers, which didn't happen in my previous in my previous world. So the fact that the customers rely on us for a product that is so essential in so many aspects of their lives. For some customers, it's a matter of life and death, right? That in itself changes how we work with our customers and what their needs are, and what we need to support. So that reality is something that we have to hold in the forefront of everything that we do. The very nature of what customers need from us makes that different, right? The timelines of what they need are tighter. And the criticality of our communications to customers becomes even more heightened. Whether it be a storm, or an outage, or an outage at one person's house, like that doesn't matter, the customer is out of what we need to provide. And the criticality of getting that back in a very condensed time frame, in order for that customer to continue moving forward, becomes essential. So everything becomes a lot tighter and more critical. And I would say the other component of what we provide, it's not a, in some cases, customers don't have a choice right on whether they need electricity or not, like I guess in fundamentally, they could figure that out. But if you've come to rely on electricity for your daily needs, and to run your households, the fact that electricity is now part of your requirements, you don't get to have a choice necessarily do I? Do I want electricity today or tomorrow to put my lights on? Affordability becomes a big component. And it's one that we need to think about for our customers: the choices on how we develop the grid, how we evolve as an organization, we need to keep affordability, sustainability, and the fact that energy needs to be attainable for our customers that has to guide what we do. And that's not true for every of every industry, and definitely not true for the previous ones I've worked for.
Dan Seguin 06:53
Julie, what are the three biggest issues for electricity customers right now?
Julie Lupinacci 07:01
Yeah, I think right now, in the November 2022, or December 2022, as this airs, affordability is probably front of mind, for most customers, the share of wallet is just not going as far with the cost of inflation. I think that's probably the primary issue for electricity customers right now. But I would say that a close second is, what the reliability of this electricity is. So the climate adaptation that we are doing as an entire city, as we're looking at what you know, more extreme weather events that are coming, the reliability of what we provide is probably a close second, right? So they want to be able to afford the commodity that is coming into their house. But they also want to be able to rely on it. And as they're making choices for what their energy future is going to be, as they're making choices about what car they're going to be purchasing next, as they're going to make choices for how they're going to heat and cool their home and making choices about fuel sources. You want to make sure that you're choosing what's reliable and that you know, reliability is there. So I think affordability and reliability are close one and two. And that is sustainable, right? We've got a lot of people that are thinking about their future, their carbon footprint, their net zero. So I think people are looking at how I conserve my energy usage? How am I smart about what I'm doing? And how am I making sure that I'm choosing things that are going to be there for the long haul, right and looking for something that's sustainable, that's good for our planet, but it's going to be around and something that they can count on. Okay,
Dan Seguin 08:53
Now I have a follow up question. What are some of the ways that hydro Ottawa is addressing those customer issues?
Julie Lupinacci 08:59
Yeah, so we're doing a number of different things. So one, I think how we put together plans for the growth of the grid, how we put plans to maintain the grid and evolve the grid is definitely something that we look at with those three things in mind. But also from a customer perspective, we are looking at bringing programs to them to help them have more access and more readily access to that information. So get a hold of their data so they can start making decisions. We're working with the Ministry of Energy on different pricing programs that might make sense according to the different behaviors, not everybody has the same lifestyle. Not everybody operates only you know, in the evenings in their house and people in especially during the pandemic like we have with we've seen very different lifestyle, and workdays come to be. So we're really well Looking at all of those things that are happening here in Ottawa, and marrying programs that make sense both from a pricing perspective, as well as energy choice. So looking at different Evie programs that we are bringing forward, looking at different energy efficiency programs that might be there and getting information into the hands of customers. In particular, there's been a lot of conversation over the last couple years, I'd say maybe a little bit more about netzero. And with the announcements the federal government, provincial, government and even municipal government have made customers are thinking about how they play in that. And there's a lot of questions and hydro Ottawa is providing information to those customers to be able to help them to be informed of what's possible, and then help give programs to get them on pathways to get there for themselves.
Dan Seguin 10:52
We are all aware that Ottawa has had some major major weather events, these past five to six years. What would you say to customers that are worried about reliability, power outages, and restoration?
Julie Lupinacci 11:10
Yeah, weather events have been tough. They're tough fun. And I don't think Ottawa has seen something like this in a very long time, like probably since the 98’ Ice Storm. And I'm not even sure that really measured up to the same impact right of what we saw and what customers dealt with. But what I would, what I would say is hydro Ottawa has put a lot of focus on what we need to do from a grid perspective to adapt to the changing climate that we're seeing here in Ottawa. And that includes those weather events. Like I don't want to pretend that I know more than our chief electricity distribution officer, like I think you interviewed him maybe a couple of weeks ago. And in that podcast, he talks about what we're doing to future proof, the grid against those extreme weather events. So I'm not going to, I'm not going to try to think that I have anything more impactful that he will say on that front. But I will say that, from a front office perspective, from a customer service, from a communications perspective, we are really looking at a lot of those tools, and further modernizing them. And what I mean by that is, is taking a look at some different technology that allows us to receive more phone calls into our system, triage those phone calls, using some cloud based technology, so that not everybody is forced to talk to an individual because even at the height of the storm, like you're not going to have 10,000 people answering phone calls within a couple of minutes of a storm hitting, but we can use technology to triage to allow our customers to know that we know if they are out of power and provide them with the information that we have at that time. So looking at updating some of the telephony software that we have in utilize some of the new technology there. So we are actively working on that. The other component to communications because I think communications really is that biggest avenue for our customers especially during these winter weather events is pushing information out. And we are looking through and working on an SMS text based technology system that allows us to push information out similar to what we're pushing out through our social media channels today. Now sending that information directly to customers either on their iPhone or potentially in their email box however they want to receive those inputs and alerts from hydro Ottawa. We also took some steps to help people become aware like the weather alert, the weather system and the weather alerts that are out there giving people a heads up on systems that are coming through. Like that's, that's one thing. But I think customers want to know, when we're looking at a weather event that's different, right? You'll you'll know when rains coming into Ottawa and you'll get those alerts about snow and all of those things, but not all weather impacts our grid and what we're looking at is to be able to provide an alert system again through through whether it's SMS or an email out directly into customers inboxes so to speak, giving them a heads up when we're watching it differently right and if we're watching it differently, you know, messages are going out make sure phones are charged make sure that you've got blankets make sure you know where your your flashlights and your your candles are. So really concentrate on getting people ready for what they need to do. So there's you know, there's a few steps and you can follow us on hydro ottawa.com to get better details on that. But that's what we're doing and making sure that we're putting that out there. Additionally, we've piloted -Sorry Dan, I got one more. Additionally, we've piloted a battery program. This was used to be able to support some of our capital work. But in the recent storm this year, we use that battery pilot to be able to help some of the most vulnerable customers in Ottawa, that are really relying on electricity to be able to breathe, right and working with the paramedics hand in hand to make sure that these batteries got to those households so that they, you know, had some additional time for us to get the power back on, either to their house or to the community.
Dan Seguin 15:32
Now telling me Julie, what are some of the things customers can do to be better prepared for emergencies? And outages?
Julie Lupinacci 15:42
Yeah, so I think there's a few things that we need to do . I think we need some major awareness about what that is, like, going back to our elementary school days, when we had to plot out the fire, you know, the fire escape plan for our house, right? And go back to thinking about if there's an emergency, do we have an emergency kit together? Right? Do we have bottled water in our systems in our house? Do we have working flashlights, right? Not just flashlights that don't have batteries? But what are those batteries? And they are up to date, right? Making sure that you have them not all over the place, but you know where these flashlights are right? If anybody's like my kids, they come in, they grab the flashlights, and all of a sudden they're in different locations around the house like they need to be, your emergency kit needs to be in one central place so that you know how to get to it, whether the lights are on or off. The other piece is I would, I would make sure that you're following us on our social channels, because we do put information out there. So make sure if you haven't connected with us that you do connect with us. And you can go to our website to find out what those are, I won't, I won't run them off here. But the other piece that I would really strongly suggest is that people go and update their contact information into our database, or into our database, which will become even more crucial as we start sending these alerts and messages directly to you. Right, no longer just through social media but directly to you in your household to be able to let you know what's going. And if I could say one other thing is that I think planning based on our reliability that we've always had, and the experience that you've always had to these dates, it's no longer enough, right? Like Hydro Ottawa is going to do everything that we can to get the power back on. But you need to plan for worst case scenario, you can't plan only for the best case. So having an alternative place to go speaking with family and saying if power is out here, we're going to come over and what do we need to bring? Having those plans in place in advance makes you better equipped to withstand any weather event that comes through that may have an outage associated with it?
Dan Seguin 17:49
Okay, moving on. Hydro Ottawa released its 2021- 2025 strategic direction. Why is that five year plan important? And what are the highlights from a customer perspective that customers should be aware of? Yeah,
Julie Lupinacci 18:08
I think any organization that's not looking five years out, so it's going to be really awakened as you start to figure out what capital planning looks like. Like it doesn't take. You can't build a substation overnight. You cannot bring additional capacity into a city without some plans. And our strategic direction really helps us do that. And it helps put some guideposts in place with regards to keeping us focused, right. There's a lot of new technology that makes shiny things that people want. But really having a strategic direction that allows us to go back to what that Northstar is, what those guiding points are, what is that end goal that we're trying to get to is really important, because cities aren't planned on a dime. And neither is the grid that supports those cities. So that five year plan really looks and works with the city to say, Where are you going? How is growth happening? And then how do we support that? And then, in in line with this strategic direction, we've also taken a very, very big leadership role in in setting ourselves up for net zero and not just us as as as hydro Ottawa, but as a partner with the city of Ottawa as a integral component of the Ontario electricity grid, an integral component of the Canadian grid. And I think that comes with a responsibility to make sure that we're looking forward and making the decisions that have to happen today for some of those assets that are going to be around for that 2050 goal that Canada has. So we're really focused on maintaining the reliability that we've been seeing over the last decade. We've had great reliability here in Ottawa despite some of the storms that have happened. Our reliability numbers continue to Be strong. So making sure that we're continuing to evolve in a smart way. And making sure that we maintain that reliability in line with the growth that's happening in the city, right, where we're seeing not only expansion into some of the other, you know, we're seeing suburbs butting up against each other now, right. And, you know, I'm not even sure if there's a true delineation between Canada and Stittsville. Sometimes, because it's like a bridge, you just go over one, one street, and now you're in the different suburbs. So, that blurring that's happening is fine. So that's the growth that's happening and expanding of the city. But we're also densifying some of the downtown core areas, so we're going upwards. And that requires a different type of planning on the infrastructure that already exists. We need to grow that infrastructure, we need to change how we're adopting those arrows potentially, and then look at planning for vehicle switching from gas to EVs. Right? So the electric, the electric vehicles, how do we support that growth? How do we support some of the growth with buildings that are converting from gas to electricity, or some of the new buildings that are looking at different technology and making sure that as they're building, the capacity is there. So all of those things are aligned within that, that we have an eight point strategy that's there. And, and the customer continues to be the center of that strategy? So as we're making decisions, we're thinking of it through that customer lens? And how is the customer going to be impacted? How is the customer going to work with us, and let's make sure that we're spending money and time and focus energy on ensuring that the electricity grid is there for the needs of the future. And then the last piece that I would put is, we're really looking at streamlining processes for our customers, right, there's a lot of steps that are in place. And in some of those, those process flows, that in some cases, technology allows us to leapfrog for our customers. Many customers don't want to talk to us directly anymore. So they want to use chat functionality, or they want to just be able to go and search a Frequently Asked Questions area, or get a how to documents sent to them so that they can do it, in some cases themselves. And we are hearing that from our customers. And we are taking the steps to make sure that we streamline those processes for that,
Dan Seguin 22:25
Julie, what role does Hydro Ottawa or utilities in general have when it comes to delivering solutions for customers to reduce their consumption and greenhouse gas emissions?
Julie Lupinacci 22:38
So, I think that we have a big responsibility there to keep people informed. I think awareness is pretty key when it comes to energy efficiency. And knowing where you're starting from, I think is a big component. So as utilities, I think we need to constantly ask ourselves, where is the customer in, in their knowledge of what we're trying to get them to do or what they're needing to do or what they're wanting to do. So I would hazard a guess that not many people have a true understanding of what their carbon footprint is, I would hazard a guess that we don't all know what our emission baseline is. So asking people to do something to reduce that. And they don't know what their baseline is, I think I think that's a misstep. So utilities, in general, I think have a responsibility to help customers understand how to do that calculation. And then identify pathways and programs that they can make choices that help enrich them towards what they're trying to do. So in some cases, it's painting the picture of what that future looks like, giving them choices of what the future can look like. And then once the customer chooses that, help them to make decisions to get them closer to that. So whether that be having a digital footprint with us, right reducing the need for us to mail a bill. So they're going off of paper and onto an email bill or coming to a website to get all of the details behind their bill. I think helping them understand what that impact is, is important. Making sure that we are doing sustainable business practices for our customers is important as well, right? Like we've made different choices in our building with regards to how we process waste, how we are moving around the city, what we do, when we have trucks that may not be Eevee. There may not be an Eevee model ready for the trucks that we need. But how are we planning for that to bring in those sustainable business practices? How are we leveraging tools to be able to take not necessarily like I'm unnecessary steps out of the process, whether it be a new material that a lot, that's a more sustainable material that doesn't have us cutting down trees or others. Like I think there's some things that we are looking at that to make choices about what that what that future is going to look like. And I think the other component that we have as utilities is we need to be leaders in the field, right, we need to look at what's happening, not just here in Canada, but there are other jurisdictions around this globe that have been doing conservation because they've needed to do conservation. And and so they've, they've, I don't want to say perfected it, but they've advanced it significantly. And in some cases, we can leapfrog what their program is to an even better program with potentially new technology or even a different focus. So we're looking at, we're looking into Europe, and what are they doing with regards to conservation? What are they doing with regards to energy efficiency? And how can we take what they're doing and adopt it here. And so I think utilities have a obligation to look outside of our own four walls, look outside of our province, even look inside of our country to see what are some of those things that are working elsewhere, that can be brought here for our customers.
Dan Seguin 26:21
Now, wondering if you could outline some initiatives that hydro Auto is doing to help its customers in that area?
Julie Lupinacci 26:30
Sure, there's a whole load of ones that we can talk to, and I would encourage you to follow our blog, because we talk about a lot of those pieces and share some of those details in greater detail. And some of the case studies that we do share, may have a direct impact on some other customers. And you would see how that translates into your business or interior household. But we work very closely with the City of Ottawa on their energy evolution file. And taking a look at everything from where public EV chargers need to be set up, talking to them about how to retrofit their own buildings and be future proofed from and have a smart energy component to that, talking about how we build better communities. So we're there talking with them at the planning stages of that. So those are things that we do with the city, we are looking at distributed energy resources in a very thoughtful and deliberate way, and seeing how we can leverage some of the distributed energy resources that exist in our city today, how we align it to the grid, and how we use these distributed energy resources to bridge the evolution that's needed to be able to get to that future where the capacity need is, is maybe even three times what we're seeing today. So how are we planning for that with traditional assets? But also how can we bridge and leverage distributed energy resources that exist and will exist in our service territory? So we're doing that tons of education says, as I talked about, whether you look at our blogs, the newsletters that go out, read them, there's some really cool things and ideas that are in there for you as residential customers, and even commercial customers. We had an amazing symposium where we just started some of the conversation about what these different projects and initiatives are that we're doing with customers and can do with customers. You look at the Zibi Community, right downtown, like right behind shudder right beside sheer falls and behind the parliament. And that community itself is built completely differently, right, looking at using renewable energy, looking at using the steam off of Kruger that's just across the river, and how that heats the building and heats the community. And then looking at, you know, from an environmental footprint, what we did at a shelter falls with the eel ladder and helping with the eel migratory patterns is one element. We have a new substation in barre haven where we were very deliberate and kept a parcel of that land for a pollinator meadow. And really looking at how we promote the pollinators to be in the area that helped that particular growth. And then a number of conservation programs that we're working with with either the ISO which is our Independent Electricity System, distributor, or off operator and working with them and the Ministry of Energy on here are some programs that we see that can help bridge a defer capital investments because the capacity is here and we're sharing the capacity a little bit different, and even encouraged people to conserve energy, you know, not leaving their lights on not leaving motors running, generators, running, and all kinds of different programs that we can look at from that perspective. So lots of pilots, lots of different programs that are in flight and pilots to come.
Dan Seguin 29:59
What new and innovative plans are you making for the short, mid and long term when it comes to customers? And what hydro Ottawa offers?
Julie Lupinacci 30:12
Yeah, so I think I mentioned our, our battery loan program, you know that that was a one that we had thought would be a one and done type of thing during, during the early days of the pandemic. And the results that we saw on that program just made it one that we don't see going away anymore. So looking at continuing to evolve that program and scale it up. So I think that would be, you know, a short term. One. Another short term one is some of the Eevee programs that we're working on, that are coming to market with regards to being able to not only see where the EVs are coming up, but predict where the next EVs are going to be coming in. And even having a bit of a different relationship with those Eevee owners. So some type of a demand response program, you'll see that too short to mid term. With regards to helping customers understand that if they defer or delay charging their car until the evening, there might be a cost benefit, but also some benefit to us overall. So I think you'll see a lot of those kinds of demand response pilots to really see how and what we need to do, and engage our community and help us get there, right? We can't do this as single, single folks, we need to do this as a full community looking towards that future. And long term, I think you'll see some of those continuing to innovate. With regards to just building smarter communities, renewables within communities, you'll look at a different way of doing some substation work, and bringing that power here into the city of Ottawa.
Dan Seguin 31:51
Now, in 2021, hydro Ottawa announced that it will achieve Net Zero operations by 2030. How will this help or improve the lives of Ottawa residents?
Julie Lupinacci 32:04
It's a very philosophical question in some cases, because I think there's still a lot of misconception or confusion around what net zero means, right? And people think that going to net zero means there's no emissions. And that's not true. Net Zero means that we are becoming carbon neutral or emission neutral. So we may emit some emissions on one side of the business. But we're, we're offsetting in another area. So I think, I think it's a few different things. I think it gets us off thinking in a very different way. It helps to stimulate a conversation that is much needed to be able to advance. And I think we have a corporate responsibility to move that forward here within the City of Ottawa, especially being the capital of Ottawa, when you have your Prime Ministers sit up there and say, we're going to be net zero by 2050. And nobody moves until 2049. It's not going to work great. So people need to move early. And I think hydro Ottawa has demonstrated a lot of those advancements towards this net zero operations even in advance of, of when we announced it, right, like a lot of some of what we were doing a lot of what we were doing sorry, was really in play before that we had a very different way of building our our generation downtown Ottawa and we took the environment into account, we took a very accountable, measured approach to how we were doing our development and you're gonna see that continue in what we do. As we build substations, how do we do that to make sure that we have the least impact on the environment, and that we leave the space that we're in as good or better is really what we're trying to do than that have been when we got there, I look at the the Cambrian substation and bar Haven, and it is better than when we put our plant there because we have a pollinator meadow that's very deliberate, and what we're doing, we're taking care of the lands that are that are there, and you're gonna see that happen throughout. And it's all in for that larger view. With regards to Ottawa residents, I think it's important for them to know that they have a utility provider that cares about that as much as they do. And that are putting very thoughtful approach to how we go about doing things and we're not just doing it for the sake of doing it it means something this last spring, although small, in its in its in its infancy and I see it growing you know, we we planted trees, as part of our employees as part of their volunteer day that they get with the company went out into community and planted trees in an area that was where they were much needed. So I think you'll see a lot of those types of initiatives all happening within the city and with our company.
Dan Seguin 35:04
Julie, is this what customers expect from a modern utility? What other ways is hydro Ottawa innovating?
Julie Lupinacci 35:14
Yeah, I think expectations on on utilities as well as most organizations is changing significantly, customers are wanting organizations, corporations to not just be good corporate citizens, but to be accountable for the decisions and the activities that they do to be transparent, and why we're making those decisions, and how we're making those decisions. So when we talk about bringing in renewables, when we talk about being ready for electric vehicles, when we talk about bringing an energy management expertise into the area, it's it's really meant to make sure that customers have the information that they're already asking for, and that they're having information from a somewhat neutral party, right. In some cases, we're not looking at pushing one way or another, but making sure that people are informed to make the best decisions, and know what the outcomes are. And I think we're uniquely positioned to do that. There's a lot of people that might sell renewables, and they help install solar panels. And we're not looking to replace any of those, those people like it takes all kinds to make these things, all kinds of components in the supply chain to make this come to reality. But I think there is a natural space for hydro Ottawa to be there to help inform customers on how to do this effectively, what this means to them, like adding solar panels to your rooftop has complications. And it also has implications for you as a homeowner. And I think it's important that people be informed as they're making those decisions to put two and two together so that they don't, later on, find out that, you know, use this example, they bought an Eevee. And they bring it home, and they have nowhere to plug it in. Because their condo Corporation isn't set up effectively. There's nowhere for them to do public charging systems, I think that we need to make sure that we're helping customers make those informed decisions, and how we can do that together. So things around, like you mentioned, cybersecurity, and energy management, one of our conversations, and we're getting in, we're playing a big role in that, like, I think if we would be naive to think that customers don't expect us to have some of the best cybersecurity programs in place we are, are the custodians of the network that makes sure that they have energy to run their lives and electricity to run their lives. And I mentioned at the beginning of this, that some people count on that to stay alive. So that is of utmost importance, and a certainty that we need to play a space in that. And then energy management, like who you turn to other than somebody is really accountable to make sure that energy comes to your house, to be able to provide that expertise and help you through that and guide you through that process.
Dan Seguin 38:19
Now, what are some community carbon reduction projects that hydro Ottawa has been involved in, that customers might not be aware of?
Julie Lupinacci 38:29
Yeah, so hydro Ottawa has been working with the city and a lot of customers around the Ottawa area to be able to help them bring some of the carbon reduction projects that they have to life and to reality. So one of the big ones that I think maybe will touch everybody in the city of Ottawa is streetlight conversions. So we converted them all the street lights to LEDs, so that provided a significant cost savings to the City of Ottawa with regards to their energy bill, but in most cases provided better lighting, to the city streets, and has an element of controls in those lights to be able to allow the city to turn them up or down depending right so there's some technology that's built into those city lights, and all done through cost savings to the to the city overall. So I think that that was a big one that folks may not know about. We have been working with the city on their electric buses and bringing that vision to fruition. Electric buses, although we're not in the bus business, we are in the business now to support getting electricity to those buses and to where they need it and planning where those bus resting stations are to recharge, making sure there's enough in electricity capacity going into the main headquarters where the buses park at night, do their maintenance, make sure that they get charged up for the routes and working to make sure that they have everything there at To add a Edie, affordable process for the city, right, making sure that we're looking at, at this model that we worked on with the city to make sure that hydro water was working and supporting everything up to that charger. And the city's buses are running the routes, but we're, you know, we're staying in our lanes with regards to core competency, but making sure that we're bringing that vision to reality. And we're doing that same thing with the airport. No, we're not in the flight business. But we are in the business of making sure that as airports, specifically the airport here in Ottawa, are looking at electrifying everything under the wing, making sure doing fuel switching even in their passenger terminals. So you know, look at lighting solutions all across, whether it's, you know, the parking garage or in the building, you know, working with the report on helping them get to their net zero commitments, and making sure that we have the expertise brought in. Sometimes it comes with, you know, understanding what different programs are out there and marrying those up. And we do that. And then the last one, I think we've been working with some customers like the airport, so the airport's not a standalone, customer story. We've got a number of those stories that we're working with customers to do. We're working with Ottawa police services to be able to help look at their fleets and how do you support moving, moving their fleets to electric vehicles and other other customers that are like that? And then looking and working with the City of Ottawa on public charging stations? Where would these be, you know, our new mayor, as part of his campaign talked about public charging stations talked about ebike charging stations, and we're working hand in hand with them to help bring those visions and those plans to reality that is not just to talk, but it is bringing those projects to life.
Dan Seguin 41:59
Okay, Julie, let's rewind and go back to the strategic plan. What are the key change drivers that are influencing hydro Ottawa is future planning.
Julie Lupinacci 42:10
So we've used a five-d framework in our strategic direction, because these are the drivers that are not just impacting our industry, but they're impacting everybody. And they're, they're things that are happening, and you'd have to understand what it is and then look at your own business and then how you support customers. So the customers need to be aware as well. So we're really looking at these five days. So the first one is decarbonisation. You know, I think we've had a lot of that conversation so far. It needs to be part of our programs, it needs to be part of our future design, it needs to be part of our discussions with customers. The second one is digitization. And this one has been around for a while, right, like people have been migrating to, to using electronics, like E bills, emails versus you know, getting your your bill in the mail, paying through through some type of paper pay service versus sending in a check, or coming in to drop off money at hydro. We haven't done that for a while. But those are pathways to this digitization. And I would say it's going further than that. We're looking at how to make sure that customers have access to their data through a digital output? How can they connect their systems to that to make some decisions for them? So digitization is a big one for us. Not just on the customer front? I would say how we're developing our systems as well. Decentralization is one of those third G's that people are looking at. And I always laugh because industries go through centralization, decentralization. It's kind of a little bit of a flux piece that happens. But we are in a decentralization component because they think the reality of an Ottawa is in the ecosystem that we have. It's a pretty vast city, like, you know, from a miles long miles wide component. It's vast. It's not as big as some of the service territories that you know, like Hydro Quebec takes care of the entire province. But it's vast enough that you would think why are we decentralizing? But there's the reality of things like the storm that bring it to light that you need some loops within the system that are centered around where people are living and making sure that we can have some redundancy in different areas. So we are looking at that. And what we do is diversification diversifying. Like we talked about overhead underground a lot this year, especially after the storms. That's one form of diversification. But there's also looking at how do you incorporate renewables? It's a different type of energy production. How do you incorporate solar in a different way in a very thoughtful way and I can be stressed enough because you can't just put solar across the entire city and think that that's going to work right, you need to be able to integrate those pieces, right? If you want that energy future, you have to integrate solar into the existing grid, and look at how we do this as a community based component. So diversification is definitely leading a lot of discussions here. And what we do, and the last one is demographics that the city is changing. You know, we used to be English, French only, we have different languages that are coming to be so that, you know, like, that's the basics of it. But also taking a look at the changing demographics of the workplace, the changing demographics of where people are working, and how people are working, like demographics is a little bit different. Right? There's, you know, there's a socio graphic component to that, or a psycho psychographic component that comes into that as well, that we're looking at how we speak to customers? How do we make sure that they have information? What are we making sure that we're doing when we plan work, right? Like we have to do maintenance on our system? How do we do that support, support our customers, so all five of those DS, really our part of how we evaluate the work of the projects that we get involved in?
Dan Seguin 46:18
What has been the impact of the pandemic on electricity customers, and how has that influenced your role, and also hydro Auto has relationship with its customers,
Julie Lupinacci 46:30
The pandemic has, I think, thrown a very different work life reality here. Ottawa, for the most part, did not see the unemployment rates as some of the other cities across Canada. So in some cases, we've been fortunate, but the impacts are still there. So for the utility, and I talked about it in the previous question a little bit, but for the utility, how we go about doing our work matters more. Now, I would say, you know, coming through the pandemic, it matters more, because when we used to plan work on our grid, we used to plan it during the day. So we would go into a community. And we would know that the bulk of the customers in that community were at work between nine and five, let's say or nine and three. And we could get a lot of work done without really impacting customers. And now, it's not like those homes have become daycares, not just during the pandemic, but as a, as a perpetual thing. Now, right, we've got hybrid work components, so you can't decide that this or you can't even hazard an educated guess that this community is going to be predominantly out between these hours on this day, like that just doesn't, that doesn't happen anymore. So working with customers and giving them more advanced notice, in some cases, more, making sure that they get this information in a timely manner so that they can plan around it the same way that we're planning is super critical. And I would say that, ultimately, the biggest change that we've seen with our customers is making sure that we can continue to do the work with the least impact to our customers. And I think that's why we talked about the battery loan program. That's why it's become such an important piece of the future that our customers will not be able to give it to everybody. But you know, at least it's a program that will kind of look at how we can evolve and be able to support our customers through those types.
Dan Seguin 48:41
Okay, Julie, we always end our interviews with some rapid fire questions, and we've got some for you. Are you ready?
Julie Lupinacci 48:50
I am. Okay, Julie,
Dan Seguin 48:52
What are you reading right now?
Julie Lupinacci 48:53
I'm actually reading two books right now. One is called Ed Mylett The Power of One More, which is a pretty inspirational story that was based on his father just doing one more thing. One more minute talking to a customer reaching out to one more customer. It's kind of a really cool dynamic when you pull it into a workspace, and the other one is Brene Brown's Atlas of the Heart. I'm reading that as part of our we had a lot of conversations about crisis, communication and emotion and Atlas of the heart was one of those recommendations. So I have taken her up on that.
Dan Seguin 49:27
Now, what would you name your boat? If you had one?
Julie Lupinacci 49:32
Yeah, I don't know if I thought this one 100% through but I think I would say Unstoppable. Maybe Unsinkable Boat.
Dan Seguin 49:43
Okay, let's move on to the next one. Who is someone that you admire?
Julie Lupinacci 49:46
That so many people to choose from? But here I'd say my mom, she's a powerhouse. She's mastered the balance of staying calm, and keeping calm even in the craziness of the chaos. She has that ability to fight kind of to find a path forward for people and during insanely stressful situations, so she like, reaches down and likes to pick people up gently, sometimes sometimes not so gently, and gives you a good kick in the butt, you know, to get you into overdrive when needed. So if I could, if I could garner some of that into who I am, I think I think that would be amazing.
Dan Seguin 50:21
Okay, what is the closest thing to real magic that you've witnessed?
Julie Lupinacci 50:27
Yeah, this is, this is a hard one for me to put into words. But let me see if I can take, again, the chaos of some of these weather events that we've seen, like I've witnessed our team go from full throttle heads down, like almost militant robotic work mode, trying to get the power back on. And they can stop in those tracks and become this completely empathetic supportive, human being to some of the most vulnerable people that they they encounter, whether it be somebody who they see is needing help to shovel their driveway because they're struggling or, you know, a child comes up to them with a with a bunch of cards to give to hydro auto, because they're their classmates made them in in class, and they want to give them to them. And they're right, coming up right to a workstation, like I see this switch happen on a dime. And in my opinion, it's so magical. So I guess in my opinion, that would be pure via pure magic moment.
Dan Seguin 51:28
Okay, next one here, what has been the biggest challenge to you personally, since the pandemic began?
Julie Lupinacci 51:35
Yeah, as a single parent, I think it's easy for me to say something like anytime the schools were doing virtual learning and trying to juggle, juggle all of you know, work. Being a teacher is the hardest job in the world. Especially in some of those, with with some of those kids that just can't sit still, which is, which is my son. But I would have to say the hardest part, for me, has been witnessing folks who are struggling, trying to get back on their feet, whether that be financially, but more so I would say struggling to get back on their feet mentally coming out of the pandemic. Okay,
Dan Seguin 52:13
moving on. We've all been watching a lot of Netflix and TV. What are your favorite movies or shows?
Julie Lupinacci 52:23
It's funny because I saw this. And I would say, yes, that's a true statement. But I haven't been watching a lot of Netflix and TV, but my family Friday Night Movie go twos, these last few weeks has been the Home Alone series. And I don't know why. Coming up to Christmas. I guess that's what it is. But home alone has been the movie. I think we're up to the third one or fourth one now at our Friday movie nights.
Dan Seguin 52:47
Lastly, what's exciting you about your industry, our industry right now?
Julie Lupinacci 52:53
Oh, geez, what's not exciting. We're I think we're in a pivotal moment and the energy industry, like a kind of table clearing moment when we're working across boundaries, like I'm talking about physical boundaries, cross fuel providers cross. The local distributor companies talking together across energy providers, you know, private, public energy providers have all kinds of different solutions out there. Everybody's at this table working to develop solutions. It's such an exciting time, because it's the egos in some cases get completely put outside and just really focused on the same goal on trying to get us to that smart, sustainable, affordable energy future. And to me, that is absolutely the most exciting part of our industry right now. Well, Julie,
Dan Seguin 53:41
we've reached the end of another episode of The thinkenergy podcast. If our listeners wanted to learn more about you and our organization, how could they connect?
Julie Lupinacci 53:54
So I am on LinkedIn. So you can find me Julie Lupinacci at LinkedIn, or you can connect right through our website. So if you send something through there, saying you want to talk to me, it'll find its way to me directly.
Dan Seguin 54:08
Again, Julie, thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you had a lot of fun.
Julie Lupinacci 54:12
Dan Seguin 54:14
Thanks for tuning in for another episode of The think energy podcast. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review wherever you're listening. And to find out more about today's guests or previous episodes, visit thinkenergypodcast.com And I hope you'll join us again next time as we spark even more conversations about the energy of tomorrow.