Energy Exchange

The U.S. Can Learn from Renewable Energy Integration in Europe

Raya Salter PhotoLast month I travelled to Amsterdam for European Utility Week (EUW), Europe’s largest “smart energy” conference that was attended by more than 7,000 people, hundreds of exhibitors, utilities, regulators and policy experts.  The theme of this year’s conference was “Pulling in One Direction,” with a focus on greater collaboration between the European power transmission and distribution sectors.  I was invited to speak about EDF’s Smart Power Initiative, which aims to change the trajectory of the U.S. electricity system to help avoid dangerous climate change through smart power policies and clean energy investments.

Why would EUW be interested in EDF’s approach?  Because EDF seeks to knit together key state and regional regulatory agendas to “move the needle” toward a clean and modernized power grid, and to fix the “disconnect” between power transmission and distribution.   Increasing the connection between the wholesale sector (typically has more sophisticated markets including real time pricing) and the distribution sector (has less sophisticated pricing) can unlock the value of smart grid. 

This is one reason why our team seeks to enable smart metering and dynamic pricing for customers on the distribution side.  Dynamic pricing incentivizes the shifting electricity use to periods of lower demand and lower prices (often when clean, low-carbon energy is most available).  Enhancing the flow of information and energy between the wholesale and distribution sector will also empower smart grid solutions such as: reducing wasted energy through energy efficiency and demand response (which rewards customers who use less electricity during times of peak, or high, energy demand) and  increasing the use of clean, distributed generation (like wind and solar).  These innovative solutions will ultimately make the system cleaner, less wasteful and eliminate the need to invest in additional polluting fossil fuel power plants. Read More »

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Consumers At The Heart Of Illinois Smart Grid Revitalization Project

On April 1, Illinois’ largest utilities, ComEd and Ameren Illinois (Ameren), updated their plans to launch one of the nation’s largest electrical grid upgrades, a $3.2 billion project that will set the stage in Illinois for how utilities and customers interact in the future.  The ComEd and Ameren plans provide new detail on how they intend to replace the aging Illinois grid and begin to transform it into a digital smart grid capable of monitoring customer and environmental benefits.  EDF and Citizens Utility Board (CUB) teamed up with both utilities to create twenty new benchmarking metrics that will measure how the utilities deliver benefits to consumers and improve their performance annually. 

To elaborate, such metrics include reductions in peak energy demand, increased adoption of renewable energy, such as solar power, wide-spread implementation of smart energy devices and diminished greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, among others.  In addition, ComEd and Ameren have elected to work with EDF and CUB to develop new and better ways to measure how smart grid technology can help reduce GHG emissions and electrical inefficiencies.  Using smart grid devices to precisely measure GHG and line loss is technically challenging, but key to unlocking the promise of smart grid technology.

When customers are empowered with the knowledge and tools to control their own energy usage, they are also empowered to save money on their utility bills.  As CUB Executive Director David Kolata points out, “A smart grid begins with smart policy. These new metrics will help bring the power grid into the 21st century more quickly and cost-effectively, ensuring that consumers see the benefits in the form of lower electric bills.”

To take full advantage of the $3.2 billion project, born out of the Illinois Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2011, ComEd and Ameren must go above and beyond the business-as-usual utility metrics.  Utility metrics to date have commonly focused on general measures to gauge customer benefits, such as customer awareness survey completions and number of customer outreach events attended.  These new tracking mechanisms go further in that they will allow the utilities to track and report where customers are realizing the benefits of electric grid improvements, and the extent to which they are participating in these opportunities.  This includes measures like the number of customers who can directly access their own energy usage data and the time it takes to connect renewable energy resources, like solar power, to the electric grid. Read More »

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