“Environmental concerns, customers’ growing desire for control, advances in technology, and the growth of EVs and renewables are rapidly accelerating the adoption of smart grid technologies,” said Hugo van Nispen, Managing Director of KEMA Americas. “Utilities are actively engaged in leading the way forward to a more sustainable business–leveraging new technology–that begins to more fully connect the energy value chain in new and innovative ways.”
Executives shared a range of perspectives, but all agreed that the pace of change was unprecedented and accelerating. Opportunities and challenges were represented by issues such as the growth of renewables and intermittency problems, increased customer sophistication and the desire to have more control over their energy systems, the challenges of cyber security and the role of natural gas as an important transitional fuel to a low carbon energy system.
“Throughout its history, the grid has been able to absorb new technologies; what makes it different today is the unprecedented rate of change,” said Paul Camuti, President of Siemens Energy Inc., Smart Grid Applications. “Really what we are talking about is the world’s largest industrial automation project.”
“I would argue that our company is currently facing the greatest changes in its 195 year history,” said Ken DeFontes, President and CEO of Baltimore Gas and Electric Company. “We have learned more about what customers are willing to do to manage their energy needs and offer them more choices and options. Through current efforts to educate customers, we’re pushing information out to them, but as they become more engaged and their interest grows, customers will start pulling information at an accelerating pace as they see the benefits and savings potential.”
Leaders also focused on opportunities to create additional value from their traditional business lines. Most executives agreed that energy consumers are increasingly sophisticated and want more control of their energy systems. The ability to proactively manage their energy infrastructure will require utilities to establish the “smart foundation” and work proactively with individual application developers, allowing utilities to provide additional products and services.
“Our customers are already seeing the benefits of our water and electric smart grid deployment in their water bills,” said Glenn Steiger, CEO, Glendale Water & Power. “Even though our deployment is only 80 percent complete, we’re able to discover water leaks they didn’t know about and they’re becoming smart grid fans.”
Despite the challenges and uncertainties involved in transitioning to a more complex environment, most executives were optimistic about the opportunity to adapt. Many pointed to smart grid pilot projects; technology advances in renewables and energy storage and the entrance of new and significant market players such as Google and Microsoft as evidence of early advancements towards the new paradigm.