Selected category: Utility Business Models

What’s next for NextGrid – Illinois’ ‘Utility of the Future’ process

By Christie Hicks, Manager, Clean Energy Regulatory Implementation

Many experts anticipate the electric utility industry evolving more in the next 10 years than it has in the past 100.

So noted the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), when it recently initiated the “NextGrid” Utility of the Future Study. NextGrid is a statewide, collaborative effort to rethink the roles of the utility, the customer, and energy solution providers in a 21st-century electric grid.

The ICC invited stakeholders to participate in NextGrid, welcoming suggestions for how the process should work. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), partnering with the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), recommended NextGrid ensure that upcoming technological advances enable a more dynamic grid – one that is cleaner, affordable, reliable, equitable, and more responsive to customer needs. But how do we get there? Read More »

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This Earth Day, 100 percent clean energy is 100 percent possible

More than 25 U.S. cities, 12 countries, and at least 89 companies have all committed to transition to 100 percent renewable energy. That’s because they all recognize the unstoppable potential clean energy has to create jobs, strengthen and protect the economy, and fight climate change.

Now, U.S. states are throwing their hats into the 100-percent renewable ring. California and Massachusetts have proposed plans to get there, while Hawaii has made the pledge. This 100-percent dream does not come from fantasy, but is actually the result of a number of coalescing factors.

Earth Day is our time to recognize what’s more: With the right mix of clean energy technologies and solutions, 100 percent renewable is 100 percent possible.

100 percent is possible

Cost competitive and scalable renewable energy has taken off over the past 10 to 20 years. The hungry solar market in California for example, has resulted in exponential growth of utility-scale and rooftop solar over the last decade, creating over 150,000 jobs throughout the Golden State.

Recently, California powered 40 percent of its midday energy demand with solar power. A steady stream of policy actions at the state and local level – timed with the dramatic drop in costs of renewables – have helped make this possible. Across the U.S., current RPS policies alone could result in these benefits:

  • Renewables contributing 40 percent of total electricity generation in the U.S. by 2050;
  • Reducing climate change-causing greenhouse gases and harmful air pollutants like SOx and NOx (which together form ozone) by 6 percent; and
  • An almost 20 percent increase in jobs.

The bold inspiration, urgency, and benefit of 100 percent renewables is without question, but the pathway for getting there is less clear and will vary by state and region. Read More »

Also posted in California, Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, Grid Modernization, Solar Energy, Time of Use| Comments are closed

Why We Still Need America’s Nuclear Power Plants — At Least for Now

Today’s American nuclear power industry is in a state of upheaval. Four new, large-scale nuclear power plants are under construction in the United States, helped by large federal subsidies. All are being built by Westinghouse, and all have faced massive cost overruns and delays. Westinghouse’s parent company, Toshiba, recently posted a $6 billion loss due to Westinghouse’s nuclear woes. (For context, that loss is half a billion more than Toshiba spent to buy Westinghouse a decade ago.) Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection on March 29.

Westinghouse’s bankruptcy shines a spotlight on nuclear power’s role as an electricity source – currently providing about 17 percent of our electricity in the U.S. – and raises issues concerning whether we can count on low-carbon electricity from nuclear power. The Energy Information Administration projects nuclear power’s share of electricity generation will decline slightly through 2040, but these projections don’t reflect current trends.

Existing plants face challenging economics

Nuclear plants have long been very expensive to build, and the continued low price of natural gas has only increased cost pressure. Many nuclear plants are losing money, leading utilities to consider retiring them. Total nuclear capacity is declining, and will continue to decline in the near future as plant retirements exceed the capacity of Westinghouse’s Vogtle and Summer plants, expected to come online in 2019-2020. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, Illinois, New York| Read 7 Responses

With New Distributed Energy Rebate, Illinois Could Challenge New York in Utility Innovation

By Andrew Barbeau, senior clean energy consultant

How does the electric utility fit in to a rapidly-evolving energy system? That’s what the Illinois Commerce Commission is trying to determine with its new effort, “NextGrid.” Together, we’re rethinking the roles of the utility, the customer, and energy solution providers in a 21st-century electric grid.

In some ways, NextGrid will follow in the footsteps of New York’s innovative Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) process, a multi-year effort to re-examine how electric utilities and customers interact. A new approach is essential to accelerating the adoption of clean energy technologies and services in the state.

Like REV, NextGrid is gaining national attention for stakeholder-driven processes to reveal new ways to value distributed energy resources (DER), like rooftop solar and batteries. New York and Illinois’ efforts also seek alternatives to simply building more and more wires, poles, and power plants to meet the energy needs of tomorrow.

Yet, Illinois may go a few steps beyond New York, creating a comprehensive framework for utilities to measure how DER are making the grid smarter and more efficient. Here is what we know will happen so far.

Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, Grid Modernization, Illinois| Read 2 Responses

Biting the Biggest Apple: New York’s New Plan to Reward Distributed Energy Resources

How do we compensate those who add clean electricity to our shared power grid? This fundamental question has affected the rate at which the U.S. has adopted, deployed, and put into use clean, distributed energy resources such as energy efficiency, batteries, electric vehicles, and rooftop and community solar.

At the core of our new distributed energy electricity system are resources that work better during specific times and weather conditions, and thereby have more value at some moments than others. So, it’s crucial to take time and location into account to properly identify the value of these clean energy resources and how they should be fairly compensated. Solving for price can spur much needed investment in renewable resources and lower the cost of clean energy development, while reducing emissions.

Last week, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) brought us a step closer to figuring how to fairly compensate distributed energy by issuing a long-awaited order to establish an interim pricing structure that encourages the evolution of distributed energy markets and better aligns with Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), the state’s initiative to build a cleaner, more efficient, and customer-centric electric system. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, Community Solar, Electricity Pricing, New York, New York REV, Social Cost of Carbon| Comments are closed

What the US Electricity Sector Can Learn from the Telecom Revolution

Utilities and regulators are not typically known for innovation. Instead, they tend to focus their efforts and attention on reliability and cost effectiveness. So, when Rob Powelson, new president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) kicked off his first national meeting under the theme “Infrastructure, Innovation and Investment,” I was intrigued.

The opening general session focused on how to upgrade aging utility infrastructure in ways that optimize new technology, and introduced a new Presidential Task Force on Innovation to promote modernization. This task force will discover how NARUC members can embrace emerging innovation – like integrated energy networks and battery storage.

This utility-industry focus on innovation marks a new direction. To prepare for the venture, we can learn from the most recent rapid disruption in a related industry, telecommunications: a mere 20-year transition from POTS (plain old telephone service) to PANS (pretty amazing new stuff). This cautionary tale reveals that the winners are grid operators who welcome new ideas and offer customers new services. Read More »

Also posted in Grid Modernization| Read 4 Responses
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