Category Archives: Utility Business Models

Utility 2.0: What are Utilities Doing to Meet New York’s Vision for a 21st Century Energy System?

nyc skylineSince the New York Public Service Commission (Commission) opened its Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding in the spring to modernize the state’s electricity system, a lot has happened. Namely, New York utilities are already working to align themselves with the broad objectives outlined in the REV proceeding. Here is an overview of efforts by the state’s big players:

CON EDISON – Brooklyn/Queens Demand Management Program

Growth in electricity demand in parts of Brooklyn and Queens is taxing infrastructure and will require action from Con Edison to ensure reliability. Con Edison could pursue a costly $1 billion substation upgrade to meet this rising demand. Instead, the utility is slashing needed investment by half and plans to invest around $500 million – $305 million in traditional utility investments and $200 million clean energy resources – to address the area’s growing energy needs as part of its Brooklyn/Queens Demand Management program. Measures include:

  • Demand Response (a tool that pays customers to conserve energy when the electric grid is stressed): A new demand response system from energy services provider Alstom, which would allow 3.3 million customers to be compensated for the value they provide to the grid.
  • Energy Storage: Battery-based energy storage for electricity produced when electricity demand is low (off-peak hours) for use when demand is high (peak periods), easing the burden on the electric grid at those times.
  • Microgrids (which generate electricity nearby or on-site where it’s consumed): The development of microgrids to improve resiliency and enable the aforementioned demand response system.
  • Electric Grid Resilience and Optimization: Expanded use of smart meters, which provide detailed electricity use data throughout the day, will improve response time to power outages and give customers more control over their energy usage.

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Utility 2.0: New York Draws Lessons on Utility Regulation from Across the Pond

By: Gavin Purchas, Acting Director, Idea Bank, and Elizabeth B. Stein, Attorney

parliament-544751_1280When the New York Public Service Commission (Commission) opened its historic “Reforming the Energy Vision” (REV) proceeding earlier this year, it recognized that the way utility companies have been regulated is out of sync with innovations in technology, business realities, and evolving customer needs,  including the need to reduce harmful pollution. In order for utility companies to become part of the solution, the Commission has made it clear that everything is up for grabs – even the basic regulatory paradigm governing how utility companies do business in New York.

Luckily, the Commission won’t have to completely reinvent the wheel since a new regulatory paradigm from the United Kingdom could serve as a potential model. This regulatory approach is known as RIIO and is based on the following formulation: Revenues = Incentives + Innovation + Outputs. RIIO was developed by the UK regulatory body, Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, after the country recognized that its previous framework – while extremely effective at achieving cost reductions – stymied innovation. RIIO includes several elements that may be useful in the New York setting, including: Read More »

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So, how do we Make Sustainability… Sustainable?

alternative-21761_640Last week the New York Times reported that, for the first time in history, clean energy resources like solar and wind are becoming cost competitive with conventional coal in some markets. This paradigm shift, where clean energy is beginning to compete head-to-head with traditional energy sources, calls for a change in perspective.

This ‘change in perspective’ is a movement toward what I would describe as “sustainable sustainability” – in which “sustainable” means the ability to stand the test of time, and “sustainability” refers to an environmentally responsible approach to making, moving, and using energy. In other words, we must find a way to ensure clean energy resources remain competitive in the marketplace and become ‘business as usual’ resources in the overall energy mix. The International Energy Agency (IEA) does a great job of explaining the need for this shift:

In the classical approach, variable renewables are added to an existing system without considering all available options for adapting it as a whole. This approach misses the point. Integration is not simply about adding wind and solar on top of ‘business as usual’. We need to transform the system as a whole to do this cost-effectively.”

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Clean, Distributed Energy Can Benefit Low-Income Families

By: Jorge Madrid, EDF Coordinator, Partnerships and Alliances, and Marilynn Marsh-Robinson, EDF Project Manager

Jorge-Madrid4 (1)#mmrobinsonmug

We’ve spent nearly 15 years collectively working on clean energy solutions for both rural and urban communities, often with under-resourced and underrepresented people at the front of our minds. One question, among many, that is consistently on the minds of elected officials and advocates alike is: How will clean energy policies affect low-income families and communities of color? This is a critical question to answer because low-income families, including a disproportionately large percentage of African Americans and Latinos, spend a greater portion of their income on utility bills. This means spikes in electricity costs can interrupt monthly finances, and even slight increases can take away from other basic needs like housing, education, and food.

Unfortunately, the concern about cost impacts on low-income families and communities of color is also frequently used as an argument against transitioning to a clean energy economy. Sometimes these arguments come from elected officials and advocates with genuine concerns, while other times, they come from industry groups who are trying to protect their own interests by pitting these communities against clean energy. In both cases, incomplete or outright misinformation muddies the water and impedes effective policy dialogue. Read More »

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Two Political Lessons from Germany’s Energiewende

Check mateAs the recent midterm elections have thrust American politics to the media’s forefront, battles for political power are fresh in our minds. While Democrats and Republicans are not the contestants in governments outside of the U.S., struggle for power among groups whose ideals clash are the bedrock of political systems everywhere, including Germany, where politics play a major role in shaping the country’s energy transition.

Political actors in countries with coordinated market economies, such as Germany, prefer dialogues, strategic concessions, and trade-offs that give rise to policy decisions unanimous among main stakeholder groups. However, for Energiewende – Germany’s aggressive plan to transition to nearly 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 – unanimity is constrained. That’s because two interest groups, the Conventional Energy Coalition (CEC) and the Sustainable Energy Coalition (SEC), support fundamentally different energy systems that oppose each other. Read More »

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Germany’s Energiewende is Shifting the Energy Paradigm – Now it’s Time to Optimize

solar-cells-491701_640Revolutionary paradigm shifts often require cohesive development of many moving parts, some of which advance more quickly than others in practice. Germany’s revolutionary Energiewende (or “energy transition”) is no exception. Set to achieve nearly 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, Germany’s Energiewende is one of the most aggressive clean energy declarations in the world. While growth of Germany’s installed renewables capacity has been explosive in recent years, optimization measures designed for Energiewende have manifested at a relatively slow pace.

Germany already has one of the most reliable electric grids in the world, but as implementation of Energiewende continues, optimization will be key to its future success. This will require better sources of backup generation to accommodate the intermittency of wind and solar, a dynamic energy market that ensures fair compensation for this backup, and a more flexible, resilient grid enabled by smart grid technologies to fully optimize demand side resources and a growing renewable energy portfolio. Read More »

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