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Why Google, Comcast, and AT&T Are Making Power Utilities Nervous

Utilities face a threat from Google, Comcast, and AT&T
Vivint panel in home
Vivint panel in homeCourtesy Vivint

In a conference room with a sweeping, floor-to-ceiling view of the snow-capped Wasatch Mountains, Todd Pedersen, chief executive officer of Vivint, sips cold-pressed juice and explains how the home security company he founded in 1999 has gotten into the electricity business by plugging into rooftop solar and digital energy management. “It helps,” he says, “that we’re competing against an industry that isn’t particularly evolving.” Based in Provo, Utah, Vivint is in the vanguard of tech, cable, and phone companies, including Google, Comcast, and AT&T, that are challenging the 100-year-old regulated utility model. Their digital portals into millions of U.S. homes are becoming back doors to the roughly $400 billion retail power market.

“The battleground over the next five years in electricity will be at the house,” says David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, whose company has made large investments in solar and is facing off against established utilities. “When we think of who our competitors or partners will be, it will be the Googles, Comcasts, AT&Ts who are already inside the meter. We aren’t worried about the utilities, because they have no clue how to get beyond the meter, to be inside the house.” Collaborating with Comcast, Crane’s NRG is running a trial in Pennsylvania that adds electricity to the traditional cable, phone, and Internet triple-play package.