Sam Sen and Bryan Stewart, TXU Energy
Episode 36 | February 26, 2019
Sam Sen and Bryan Stewart oversee value added smart home services and renewable energy options for TXU Energy, one of the largest electricity providers in the state of Texas. They sit down with hosts Kyle Frazier and Tim Duffy to share details about TXU’s bundled home services, iThermostat product, wind and solar energy plans, and Alexa skill for customer service, as well as what the future of smart homes and renewable energy in Texas may look like.
After getting his master’s degree from UT, Sam Sen became a management consultant working with energy companies. He moved over to TXU 10 years ago, where he has been in a variety of roles and currently leads the value-added products segment or smart home business.
Bryan Stewart has also been at TXU for over a decade and works on renewable energy offerings.
Value Beyond Electricity
TXU’s primary business is electricity service in the competitive markets of Texas, which includes the major metro areas surrounding the state’s largest cities, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth. Beyond electricity, TXU offers a number of other products that benefit homeowners. This includes home warranties, smart thermostats that allow you to better control your energy usage, and bundled home services when you move including cable TV, internet, and phone service.
TXU also offers renewable energy options enabling customers to support wind and solar power in Texas. The GreenUp product enables any homeowner to purchase wind energy by matching their home’s electricity consumption with renewable energy certificates (RECs). As an early pioneer of solar in Texas, TXU has since 2008 offered net metering to compensate customers who have home solar panels for the power they produce. Net metering is an important part of the value proposition for solar, and unlike some states Texas does not have a regulatory mandate requiring utilities to offer net metering. Bryan says that TXU is proud to have helped bring solar to Texas in the deregulated markets.
Not everyone is eligible for rooftop solar panels. It requires the right roof space, orientation, no shade, roof in good condition, good credit or cash. For people who are interested in solar but can’t put panels on their roof, TXU offers plans sourcing power from the solar farm that their sister company built in West Texas, which is the largest in the state at 180 megawatts (MW). The farm has 720,000 solar panels and is the size of 1,400 football fields. It also features a 10 MW battery, one of the largest in Texas.
“We are committed to renewables on the retail side but also on the generation side,” says Sam. Fortunately, the economics of renewable energy are increasingly favorable. The cost of solar has been dropping tremendously, especially at utility scale. The cost of lithium ion batteries is also decreasing. The company has also announced that a 300 MW battery, the world’s largest, will be built in California.
The issue with renewable energy sources is that they are not dispatchable, on-demand technology. Battery storage becomes the missing link, and that technology is also increasingly moving towards the home.
A Future of Smarter Homes and Cleaner Energy
In the future, the discussion will move towards home energy management. In a home with solar panels, a battery, and an electric vehicle, the next step will be optimizing when to charge and discharge power in each asset to provide power for each of the home’s appliances.
Sam and Bryan recently attended the Smart Energy Summit, which brings together energy providers and smart home device makers with a focus on the confluence of energy and technology. As an energy provider, the smart home offers TXU a lot of potential to engage customers and provide differentiated services. For example, a TXU Energy customer can check their balance and even pay their bill using the Amazon Alexa voice-enabled speaker. Customers who have the TXU-provided iThermostat engage with the app much more often than most customers do with their utility
Last year, TXU launched a plan called “Free Nights & Solar Days” that gives customers free wind powered electricity from 8pm until 6am, and daytime electricity is powered by their West Texas solar farm. That enables someone living in an apartment to be powered entirely by renewable energy.
Bryan says that most of the adoption of distributed generation solar is among wallet-huggers, not tree-huggers. In the last couple of years, people are going solar on their own without having to be incentivized with rebates.
Go to txu.com/solar to learn more about TXU’s partnership with SunPower. If you already have solar panels and are not getting net metering credit for it today, go to txu.com/cleanenergycredit to find out if you can switch to TXU.