As the climate crisis intensifies, SAP has made it clear that the company is committed to helping its customers combat these challenges and embrace sustainable alternatives.

Enabling climate action through technology is top of mind for customers in industries around the globe, but the topic was particularly remarkable to the gathering of North American utility organizations at the annual SAP for Utilities conference in San Diego on October 17-19. These are organizations that not only face the emergency environmental situations intensified by climate change, like hurricanes and fires, but are also daily witnesses to energy consumption and, increasingly, adoption of more sustainable energy sources.

It’s no surprise then that sustainability was a key track at the conference, addressing head-on the challenges that North American utilities face as they grow and innovate against the looming presence of climate change. With keynotes from world-renowned experts and boots-on-the-ground insight – 90% of the track sessions were led by customers – here are the top takeaways on how sustainability is shaping the utilities industry.

Technology Is the Most Critical Tool to Combat Climate Challenges

While utilities have been responding to the impact of climate challenges for decades, the last few years have made the challenge acute: more intense natural disasters, the swift adoption of electric vehicles, and even the overnight shift to remote work. All of these have a significant impact on the energy grid – and when coupled with an escalation of regulation around sustainability, utilities are working under incredible market complexity.

The response, from industry experts and utility managers alike, was clear: to manage these challenges, companies need to gather, track, and understand their data. And the only way to do that is through digitization and smart software.

“The most important thing is the ability to measure: to know where you started and where you’re going to, where the journey ends,” said Brian Roach, managing director of Regulated Industries at SAP. “What we’re seeing now is a lot of investment in the understanding of, say, your carbon footprint and having a predictable and consistent means of measuring that.”

The Singular Impact of the Electric Vehicle

For the past century, the energy industry has looked more or less the same. But factors are colluding to upend that stasis, and none more so than the electric vehicle. Elon Musk recently went on record that U.S. electricity production needs to double in order to power the transition to electric vehicles. That is a tall order for utilities. It’s also an amazing opportunity to define new approaches in the ecosystem and create new business, particularly when it comes to taking advantage of off-cycle electrical demand.

“This is where smart technology must be applied: determining when you charge, what the right time of day is, what the rates are, the priorities of what gets charged first,” said Tony Posawatz, president and CEO of Invictus iCAR LLC, in the opening keynote. “This is where some of the horsepower that exists in the industry will come to bear.”

The Opportunity Is Now to Transform the Industry

Despite the clear external pressures – regulations, customer expectations and demand, the fast-evolving climate crisis – the tone was one of optimism and excitement. This is a turning point for the industry, and organizations are eager to rise to the challenge.

“I’ve been in this industry for decades, and for the first 10 years or so it was pretty stable; there wasn’t a lot of significant change. But right now, we are in a transformative state. I see it as a huge opportunity for us to be the ones who formulate what the future of utilities looks like,” said Michael O’Donnell, regional vice president of Utilities for SAP, in the opening keynote. “For me, it couldn’t be a more exciting time. You call it disruption; I call it opportunity for us to shape this and change the future.”

Mallory Kuno works within Communications at SAP.