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Pathway to the Utility of the Future

This author no longer works for DNV GL.

At DNV GL’s 5th Annual Utility of the Future Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., attendees heard perspectives covering business and innovation in mature US markets; growing Latin American regions; and developing nations, as Haiti’s energy minister discussed his country’s efforts to rebuild.

Several clear themes emerged over the course of the program, including

  • Utilities will have to be more consumer-focused in order to gain higher customer participation in energy efficiency programs and awareness of electricity consumption.
  • Regulatory mandates for fewer emissions are forcing utilities to closely manage energy portfolios and assets as coal plants are forced to close, more renewable sources are brought online, and electric vehicles begin to proliferate. Low natural gas prices are changing the equation, but are they a phenomenon or a long-term reality?
  • Distributed energy resources can be seen as both an advantage and a threat. Can utilities effectively work with these independent prosumers or will they be relegated to simply being wires companies?

Here are a few key highlights from the featured panels and presenters:

  • Industrial market demand has increased as foreign manufacturers are moving operations to the Southeast, mitigating flat growth in residential and commercial markets. A diverse energy portfolio of nuclear, coal, natural gas, renewables, and efficiency programs has minimized volatility.
  • Right-of-way issues for transmission are amplified as Brazil has some of the most remote and challenging terrain in the world, which includes protected wetlands.
  • Haiti has to consider which of two modes for delivering electricity will be most practical—large, centralized power plants with transmission lines or distributed microgrids—and the balance between fossil fuels and renewables for generation.
  • Keep messages consistent, ubiquitous, and simple but be respectful. Help the customer understand why an efficiency program is right for them and help them understand usage patterns so there are no surprises.
  • Utilities have historically been driven by reliability; however, the growth of technology in all aspects of life has raised the bar much higher. The intermittency of renewables also threatens reliability. Utilities need to plan ahead with the right balance of public policy, regulation, new technology, and customer engagement to manage change.
  • Microgrids, another distributed resource, will become ubiquitous as large customers become prosumers to ensure power reliability and control energy costs. Data centers, for example, are becoming more like power plants as they employ co-gen, backup generators, and storage. Areas with dispersed population pockets in remote areas, such as the Amazon jungle, are ideal for microgrid developments.
  • Large customers want to reduce their dependence on the grid as much as utilities want to reduce peak load. Demand response and tariff programs make sense for both parties and are encouraged.

This post features excerpts from the 2012 Utility of the Future Leadership Forum. Download the Utility of Future Leadership Forum Summary paper for a complete synopsis of each panel discussion.

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