In May of 2014, we announced an internal competition for system employees that aimed to harness the power of innovation and collaboration. The goal was to help the company "look around the corners of the future" and position itself for continued success.
Known as SO Prize, the competition was designed to recognize employees who devised the most inventive solutions to the various challenges faced by Southern Company and the electric utility industry, and to stimulate fresh ideas that could potentially drive future growth for years to come.
More than 500 individuals and teams submitted nearly 1,000 ideas. Many teams were made up of employees from different operating companies and subsidiaries, collaborating across geographic and business unit lines.
In October, six SO Prize winners were announced. The winning teams and individuals, along with a synopsis of their proposals, are highlighted below. Pilot programs have been approved for all six concepts as the company continues to explore and evaluate the possibilities of each.
The Hydrogen Alternative
Chethan Acharya and Todd Wall envision a plan for using existing power plants to make hydrogen, which could be transported by liquid carriers to fuel stations using existing oil pipeline infrastructure. The gas could then be used to power proton-exchange membrane fuel cell vehicles on the open road or in industrial settings. Such a scenario could ultimately pave the way for a carbon-free hydrogen economy, with Southern Company positioned as the leading supplier of hydrogen for this market.
Team Members: Chethan Acharya (SCS), Todd Wall (SCS)
Water, Water Everywhere
With 400 miles of coastal access and 27,000 miles of transmission line rights-of-way in the Southern Company system, Ray Smith envisions a grid of pipelines that move water to where it is needed. Desalination plants could be constructed to convert coastal seawater to fresh water and then pump it through pipelines along transmission rights-of-way. Providing the Southeast with a virtually unlimited source of water could help alleviate ongoing discussions between states over the current limited supply, and address local communities' concerns regarding droughts and water rationing.
Team Member: Ray W. Smith (SCS)
Line Inspections Using UAVs
Today, aerial inspections of power lines are performed with manned aircraft. Paul Schneider and his team propose flight-based data collections by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). UAVs are more cost-effective than helicopters and winged aircraft, and they enable closer inspection with less environmental impact. UAVs could also dramatically reduce the time between data collection flights that require air support. This proposal estimates that outages could be shortened by an average of 1.5 hours per outage through the use of UAVs-eliminating almost 11 days of outages every year.
Team Members: Paul Schneider (GPC; pictured), Matt Clarkson (APC), Dexter Lewis (SCS), Drew McGuire (SCS), Patrick Norris (SCS), Ranato Salvaleon (GPC)
Alabama Power's James Young and his colleagues are convinced that the key to increasing customer satisfaction, loyalty and revenue lies in better understanding what individual customers want and treating them accordingly. The idea: Use data to identify customer priorities and proactively provide individualized solutions. Data analytics could provide actionable insights that enable the delivery of the right message to the right customer at the right time-or assist in the development of new product and service offerings while identifying the most cost-effective manner in which to implement them.
Team Members: James Young (APC; pictured), Noel Black (SCS), Chris Blake (APC), Stoney Burke (SCS), Hannah Flint (SCS), Joe Massari (SCS), Todd Perkins (APC), Tom Schmaeling (APC), Nick Sellers (APC), John Smola (APC), George Stegall (APC), Jeanne Wolak (SCS)
Empowering Customers with More Choices
Gulf Power's Lisa Roddy believes customers should have more options, similar to the customized cell phone plans offered by wireless carriers. For example, customers might pay a set amount for unlimited usage or pay only for what they use. They could potentially purchase charging stations for electric vehicles or surge protection at a fixed price. Lisa envisions that customers might even be able to purchase blocks of renewable energy or select options to finance solar power for their homes.
Team Member: Lisa Roddy (Gulf)
Fueling the PEV Revolution
Bryan Coley, John Socha and their team envision a comprehensive effort to accelerate the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). The team proposes the creation of a pre-sale education and awareness program, PEV sales and leasing facilitation, post-sale customer service and a network of charging stations throughout the Southeast. This vision includes the establishment of strategic concierge locations for hands-on driving experiences and the opportunity to purchase PEVs through a network of dealer partners.
Team Members: Bryan Coley (Gulf), John Socha (SCS), Blair Farley (SCS), Trey Hayes (APC), John Peters (GPC), Jamie Sandford (APC), Lincoln Wood (SCS)