PUR Guide 2012 Fully Updated Version

Available NOW!

This comprehensive self-study certification course is designed to teach the novice or pro everything they need to understand and succeed in every phase of the public utilities business.

Order Now

To Reach Our Energy Future

The day may come when customers actually love their utility.

As anyone knows who works in the energy industry, changes are coming in the way we generate, distribute, and use electricity.

From New York to California to Hawaii, lawmakers are calling for more renewable energy. They're welcoming new technologies into grid systems for energy management. They're encouraging formerly monopolistic and slow-moving utilities to reinvent themselves - as smart and nimble player-coaches in a newly dynamic and pluralistic energy marketplace.

It's difficult to predict the exact shape and complexion of America's energy future. In many ways the goals seem near-utopian. But for a glimpse of what we might expect, let's examine some of the ideas that surfaced at June's New York Solar Summit, sponsored by the City University of New York, as part of a contest to help promote New York State's remarkable new and closely watched initiative, known Reforming the Energy Vision, or NY REV. This initiative, administered by the New York State Public Service Commission, is designed to re-make the electric grid to embrace advancements in technology that can help meet threats posed by aging infrastructure, more frequent extreme weather events, greenhouse-gas-driven climate change, and growing dangers to our physical and digital security.

NY REV - and similar initiatives to come in other states - marks a golden opportunity not only to build a stronger, safer, more reliable and cleaner grid, but also to grab a once-in-a-lifetime chance for energy suppliers and consumers to stop working at cross-purposes and instead forge a mutually rewarding partnership for a shared future. NY REV has the potential to end the zero-sum game where one side of the equation must "lose" for the other side to "win." NY REV promises to make energy a win-win - for the first time in history. The day may not be far off when people actually love their local utility. (And don't laugh!)

Done right, redesigning the grid under NY REV's principles will bring benefits to utilities and consumers. Utilities will enjoy:

  • Involvement. Increased customer engagement and participation in their own energy consumption (and the increased revenue this engagement promises through value-added services),
  • Security. Greater grid resiliency through well-managed integration of distributed energy resources (solar and wind, etc.) into grid operations, and
  • Opportunity. Broader opportunities to participate in the ISO market systems and monetize new value streams.

Meanwhile, consumers will benefit through:

  • Fewer Outages. Potential elimination of power outages due to stored onsite backup power,
  • Smarter Service. Control of energy use through smart home systems, smart appliances, and instant digital communication with utilities,
  • Bigger Savings. Better management of billing, including savings generated by using electricity when it's most economical, and payments from utilities for power generated in homes and sold back to the grid.

The goals of NY REV are universal: to promote energy efficiency, grid security and resiliency, greater use of renewables (cleaner air), and wider deployment of distributed energy resources. The winning idea at NY Solar Summit to accomplish these goals rests on two inter-related pillars:

  • Act Locally. Customer-sited (behind the meter) systems for energy storage and control to optimize integration of renewables into the grid and maximize the value of these distributed energy resources, creating shared value for consumers, providers, utilities, and society as a whole.
  • Think Globally. Choosing new technologies to accomplish NY REV's universal goals with a focus not on the components - the old "bits and bytes" obsession of the PC-wars days - but on the operating system and the apps. That's where true intelligence lies.

Bringing Intelligence to Storage

Intelligent integrated energy storage systems deploy powerful batteries and cloud-based software controls along with residential solar power or other renewables to capture, store, reserve, and dispatch energy when and where most needed by the grid. These needs include absorbing excess generation of renewable energy, providing the capacity for demand management, and supporting various utility-based customer services and programs. Intelligent integrated energy storage offers additional benefits in the way of backup power during extreme weather for homes and such places as schools or police stations. It can increase grid stability during weather or performance events that could otherwise bring the grid down.

Creating the Virtual Power Plant

All of this brings us to the operating system and the apps. Enabling powerful, grid-level functionality - the apps - requires home-by-home system intelligence. This sort of operating system offers the ability to combine individual storage systems to scale up to a higher level of grid-wide energy capacity. Cloud-based analytics will "talk" to individual in-home systems. That can provide the entire grid provide with real-time insights about performance - on both micro and macro levels. As a result, energy stored in home-based systems can be linked together dynamically and controlled in an orchestrated manner by grid operators, delivering energy to the grid as if from a single, fleet-level Virtual Power Plant (VPP).

The VPPs created by intelligent customer-sited integrated energy storage systems will be vital contributions to the new grid, not only in extreme cases of outage or disruption, but also to save enormous amounts of money for utilities and their customers on a continuous basis. To cite just two of many examples, VPPs could: 1) reduce or eliminate some of the $75 billion projected to be spent for expensive "peaker" plants that are built - but very rarely used - to meet occasional peak energy demands, and 2) generate enormous savings from reducing the need for new grid infrastructure because stored energy would be put back on the grid at moments of peak demand.

New York's initiative - Reforming the Energy Vision - promises a comprehensive, far-sighted project with near-utopian ambitions: cleaner air and water, more well-paid jobs, economic fairness, and unheard-of levels of partnership between energy producers and consumers. The amazing thing is that, in contrast to many near-utopian undertakings, NY REV will meet its lofty goals for one simple reason: given the stark threats to our shared future - not just in New York State, but in the U.S. and globally - there's no other alternative.


Ken Munson is CEO of Sunverge Energy.