What is the pathway to a sustainable energy future?
As DNV GL’s 5th annual Utility of the Future Leadership Forum came to a close, we found ourselves drawing certain broad conclusions from the comments and opinions of the more than 30 speakers and panelists.
Broadly stated, here are a few key takeaways from our Utility of the Future discussions:
- > Anticipating and designing the future requires us to focus on a moving target. The energy and utility industry is rapidly embracing new technologies and capabilities, even as load growth continues to be unpredictable and sporadic at best. Planning the future will require bold bets to be made—for example, building a new nuclear reactor or investing in ultra-high voltage transmission—that require occasionally heroic assumptions. Obviously, this is difficult to accomplish in an environment where many investment decisions fall victim to the used and useful scrutiny that is often applied retrospectively.
- > Innovation is constantly redefining our industry. In most cases, disruptive innovation is being driven by companies and individuals who choose not to be constrained by the realities of today. However, while utilities have done a great job of applying innovative technologies in some cases, few have taken the required next step of transforming their business operations in a way that enables them to take full advantage of the applied innovation.
- > Even as the core utility business continues to redefine itself, finding sufficient future employees with the training and skills necessary to be effective is becoming more of a challenge. This is even causing some utilities to reach deep into the education system, including grade schools, to influence and direct students to take their science, mathematics, and other foundational courses more seriously. While centralized generation is not going to retire in the near future, it is clear that more customer-centric generation will become a bigger part of the supply equation. This transition, over time, will even call into question the essential purpose of a utility. For example, in this type of environment, who will be responsible for reliability, adequacy of supply, infrastructure build out, standards compliance, and so on? On the other hand, DNV GL’s Power Matching City has already demonstrated that customers are willing to be much more engaged in the supply value chain than anyone had previously thought. Taking this development seriously and being active in customer-centric microgrids is an important step for utilities to undertake.
- > Among utilities and customers, the transition to a sustainable energy future has percolated deep into business operations. It is embedded in employee hiring, retention, training and rewards, evaluations, and promotions. It is paramount in investment decisions, supply chain management, marketing, and branding. Meeting ambitious energy goals helps motivate teams and strengthen morale, and the principles of sustainable energy management are quickly crossing over into management of other finite resources, particularly water. Sustainability has moved beyond being a marketing message. For many utilities and their customers, it is a way of life.