Searching for smart, safe news you can TRUST?

Support safe, smart, REAL journalism. Sign up for our Axios AM & PM newsletters and get smarter, faster.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Searching for smart, safe news you can TRUST?

Support safe, smart, REAL journalism. Sign up for our Axios AM & PM newsletters and get smarter, faster.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa-St. Petersburg news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa-St. Petersburg

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Worker installs solar panels on California homes. Distributed energy like rooftop solar has contributed to utility stagnation. Photo: Will Lester/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin via Getty Images

Last week, activist firm Elliott Management Corporation mandated that California-based Sempra Energy return to basics and shutter future growth activities. With U.S. electricity demand continuing to flatline, "a return to basics" will juice near-term prices, but risks Sempra’s long-term stability.

Why it matters: Elliott's strategy, like those of other activist investors, intensifies the structural pressure on once-stable utilities. As declining utility demand, stiffer competition and increased consumer interest in distributed services challenge legacy service models, utilities are struggling in part because some owners are playing a profit-squeezing short-game at the expense of long-term planning.

The challenges:

  • In recent years, fast-moving distributed providers have started delivering smart-home services such as rooftop and community solar, allowing consumers to circumvent traditional utilities.
  • Consumers increasingly expect more choice, transparency, digital engagement and sustainable services — areas in which utilities typically underperform.
  • Telecom, security and technology providers circling energy services as an entry-point to bourgeoning smart-home markets pose another competitive threat.

The impact: In the face of fresh competition and shifting market requirements, utilities are largely retreating, not repositioning. Despite large cash volumes, utilities have not invested in the technology, systems and talent to seize emerging opportunities. That’s partly a failure of leadership, but it's also a failure of capital structures that value dividend returns over long-term planning.

The bottom line: Like the landline-to-mobile-phone transition, the electrons-to-smart-home transition will create winners and losers. Elliott’s back-to-basics strategy for Sempra is just one example of how short-term thinking risks impeding long-term viability in rapidly changing markets.

Steve McBee is the former CEO of NRG Home.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
23 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Higher education expands its climate push

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New or expanded climate initiatives are popping up at several universities, a sign of the topic's rising prominence and recognition of the threats and opportunities it creates.

Why it matters: Climate and clean energy initiatives at colleges and universities are nothing new, but it shows expanded an campus focus as the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent, and the world is nowhere near the steep emissions cuts that scientists say are needed to hold future warming in check.

Ina Fried, author of Login
49 mins ago - Economy & Business

The pandemic isn't slowing tech

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Thursday's deluge of Big Tech earnings reports showed one thing pretty clearly: COVID-19 may be bad in all sorts of ways, but it's not slowing down the largest tech companies. If anything, it's helping some companies, like Amazon and Apple.

Yes, but: With the pandemic once again worsening in the U.S. and Europe, it's not clear how long the tech industry's winning streak can last.

Texas early voting surpasses 2016's total turnout

Early voting in Austin earlier this month. Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Texas' early and mail-in voting totals for the 2020 election have surpassed the state's total voter turnout in 2016, with 9,009,850 ballots already cast compared to 8,969,226 in the last presidential cycle.

Why it matters: The state's 38 Electoral College votes are in play — and could deliver a knockout blow for Joe Biden over President Trump — despite the fact that it hasn't backed a Democrat for president since 1976.