Outline

  • The utilities sector refers to a category of companies that provide basic amenities, such as water, sewage services and dams.

Detail

The utilities sector refers to a category of companies that provide basic amenities, such as water, sewage services and dams. Although utilities are private, for-profit companies, they are part of the public service landscape—providing as they do such staples for daily living. There are many different types of public utilities. Some, especially large companies, offer multiple products, such as electricity and natural gas. Other companies specialize in one specific product, such as water. Modern public utilities may also be partially (or completely) sourced from clean and renewable energy in order to produce sustainable electricity. Of these, wind turbines and solar panels are those used most frequently.

Public utilities have historically been considered to be a natural monopoly. This school of thought holds that the most cost-efficient way of doing business is through a single firm because these are capital-intensive businesses with unusually large economies of scale and high fixed costs associated with building and operating the infrastructure, e.g. power plants, telephone lines and water treatment facilities. However, over the past several decades, traditional public utilities' monopoly position has eroded. For instance, wholesale electricity generation markets, electric transmission networks, electricity retailing and customer choice, telecommunication, some types of public transit and postal services have become competitive in some countries and the trend towards liberalization, deregulation and privatization of public utilities is growing. However, the infrastructure used to distribute most utility products and services has remained largely monopolistic.

The management of public utilities continues to be important for local and general governments. By creating, expanding, and improving upon public utilities, a governmental body may attempt to improve its image or attract investment. Traditionally, public services have been provided by public legal entities, which operate much like corporations, but differ in that profit is not necessary for a functional business. A significant factor in government ownership has been to reduce the risk that an activity, if left to private initiative, may be considered not sufficiently profitable and neglected. 

Many utilities are essential for human life, national defense, or commerce, and the risk of public harm with mismanagement is considerably greater than with other goods. The principle of universality of utilities maintains that these services are best owned by, and operating for, the public. The government and the society itself would like to see these services being economically accessible to all or most of the population. Furthermore, other economic reasons based the idea: public services need huge investments in infrastructures, crucial for competitiveness but with a slow return of capital ir technical difficulties can occur in the management of plurality of networks.