Will California’s Energy Policy Become the World’s Energy Policy?

California recently was ranked by the World Bank as number eight in world economies, ahead of Russia and Italy and just behind Brazil. Jerry Brown, re-elected as governor, delivered an inaugural address that included an energy policy in the form of three energy objectives for 2030. Given this state’s ability to make markets through its imposing economic and innovation strengths, here are my projections about what this energy policy will mean for California, electric utilities, Smart Grid vendors, and the world.

Energy objective 1: Increase electricity from renewable sources to 50%.

The state was well on its way to achieving the 2020 objective of integrating a 33% mix of renewables into its electricity sources. This new goal puts increased emphasis on energy storage to firm up even more intermittent renewables, so the state market will markedly expand for both utility-scale and distributed renewable generation and storage solutions. Distributed generation, particularly in the form of rooftop solar, will also be required to meet this objective. California utilities will seek regulatory approval to rent customer rooftops and operate solar generation assets on an aggregated scale, as long as these assets count towards their expected renewable investments. Vendors with distributed grid operations management solutions have a bright future in the state.

Energy objective 2: Reduce petroleum use in transportation by 50%. Don’t bank on a focus on technologies that improve miles per gallon in internal combustion engines. California’s strong support for carbon cap and trade markets and climate change initiatives put the emphasis on clean alternative fuels. Hydrogen technologies and fuel cell cars could be part of this strategy. However, the regulated electric utilities have a new leverage point to build EV programs and create new opportunities to explore transactive energy scenarios that firm intermittent renewables. PG&E recently announced a pilot program with BMW.   Municipalities will also look at greenhouse gas reduction goals through systemic transportation transformations. Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) initiatives and municipal utilities will adopt EVs for their flexibility in smart charging.

Energy objective 3: Double the efficiency of existing buildings and make heating fuels cleaner. California enacts new building energy efficiency standards every three years that typically apply to new buildings. It’s noteworthy that this energy objective highlighted existing building stock. Building energy efficiency retrofits have multiple benefits – local jobs in communities, and accrued savings from reduced energy bills for residential and business consumers. Since California is one of eleven states that decoupled both electricity and natural gas, regulated utilities won’t see negative impacts on their bottom lines. Expect innovations in programs that encourage energy efficiency retrofits for multi-family and rental properties and more PACE-like programs that focus on energy efficiency rather than generation. With regards, to cleaner heating fuels, most California homes use natural gas, which emits those bad greenhouse gases. However, look for most policy and investment activity in commercial buildings, which can benefit from combined heat and power (CHP) and even more energy-efficient combined cycle heat and power (CCHP) technologies to heat building spaces. The solutions here are much more mature than they are for residential, although this 2030 objective offers significant impetus to future Department of Energy Funding Opportunity Announcements.

The leader of the eighth largest world economy said, “How we achieve these goals and at what pace will take great thought and imagination mixed with pragmatic caution. It will require enormous innovation, research and investment. And we will need active collaboration at every stage with our scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, businesses and officials at all levels.” The good news is that California has all the ingredients to make it happen, and what happens in California does not stay there.

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Three Important Takeaways for Success in the Smart Grid Ecosystem

The market opportunities are quite promising. The USA’s electricity ecosystem is transforming as new Smart Grid technologies, regulatory policies, and capitalization mechanisms disrupt the status quo. It should be a no-brainer for companies to enter this business sector, but there’s a troubling statistic based on actual history across many sectors.   For every success, there are about four failures. My consulting firm has conducted market assessments and implemented market entry strategies for domestic and international companies interested in breaking into the US electricity ecosystem. Here are three observations to help vendors ensure successful entry into this dynamic sector:

  • There is no “one size fits all” market entry strategy. The USA is a very large market. Energy opportunities and challenges are influenced by geography and meteorology. That in turn influences state energy policies and utility objectives. Regulatory policies are particularly balkanized, with state-based public service or utility commissions providing oversight of some utilities, but not all of them. Instead of a nationwide strategy, you may be better served with an entry strategy differentiated and prioritized by state and type of utility.
  • Demonstrate your interest with local investments. The USA has always been open to embracing new technologies from other countries, but a local presence in the states where you want to initially conduct business can be a real advantage, particularly after the Great Recession. Even in the state that contains Silicon Valley – which is geographically agnostic when it comes to innovation adoption – the California Energy Commission’s Electricity Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program evaluation process awards points to companies that have made investments in the state. This program provides funding to bridge the technology adoption chasms between innovators and early adopters, and it can be a critically important finance option when other sources can’t or won’t take the risks on emerging technologies.
  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint. The electric utility sector is very conservative in its embrace of new technologies or services, and its not alone. Water and gas utilities are similarly slow to adopt innovations. Your market entry strategy should be prepared to invest in education and evangelism, particularly if your solution is disruptive, or if your company is new to the sector.  Success in other business sectors is relevant, but not an absolute guarantee of success with utilities. Education develops familiarity with a solution and its provider. Evangelism helps find your initial customers.

This advice applies to vendors of Smart Grid and Smart Infrastructure hardware and software products and services. There’s no overnight success in this ecosystem – it takes persistence and patience. The good news is that market entry success is definitely achievable for companies that build realistic objectives, budgets, and time expectations into their strategies.

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Count Your Energy Blessings

It’s holiday break time.  New articles will resume the first Monday in January 2015.

Have an enjoyable holiday!

Count your energy blessings – there are 2 billion people who don’t have electricity, and too many women and children spend most of their time gathering fuel for heat and light.

Let’s reduce energy poverty in 2015.

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The Final Five Smart Grid Predictions – A Progress Report

I made ten predictions in January 2014 about Smart Grid and Smart City trends and changes that will occur between 2014 and 2020. Here is an update on the final five predictions. The first five were reviewed last week. You can review the full predictions here and here, and judge for yourself the quality of my crystal ball.

6.  Debates about the future of the social compact for electricity services and the socialization of electricity costs continue. The Reforming Energy Vision initiative includes the objective to “enable and facilitate” new business models for utilities, customers, and energy service companies. This is just the first state activity that will generate significant discussion about how to equitably balance distribution grid investments that accommodate and integrate more distributed energy resources (DER). Since it will take time to implement and then measure results from new business models, this debate is sure to continue for the next decade.

7.  EVs advance to 10% of the US car market. The current electric vehicle (EV) penetration in 2013 was just a bit over .5%. The falling costs of gasoline are putting additional pressure on EV manufacturers to reduce prices of zero emission vehicles to increase consumer adoption. However, utilities are now taking a more active role, as Edison Electric Institute members will start investing up to $50 million annually in EV service trucks and charging stations for consumers. The Department of Defense (DoD) is conducting pilots for vehicle to grid or V2G applications. Their first smart charging demonstration are exploring V2G performance, and they will also examine re-purposing used EV batteries for fixed energy storage.

8.  Resiliency measures also become part of the definition of a smart building. There are a number of federal, state, and non-governmental initiatives that address resiliency, and some critical infrastructure definitions include selected buildings. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is developing standards guidance for community disaster resilience, but this is focused on building materials and codes. Microgrids, DER and Zero Net energy codes and technologies can bridge the gap in existing resiliency initiatives for buildings. Microgrids are already in production as resources to maintain power to critical infrastructure during emergencies – one of the goals of the Borrego Springs microgrid.

9.  Nanotechnologies help propel solar harvesting efficiencies past the 50% mark, and by 2020 research scientists are aiming for 75% harvest efficiencies. The number of patents filed for innovations in nanotechnology using graphene have tripled in the past 10 years. The research pipeline contains single molecule thick sheets of graphene and molybdenum that can potentially provide 1000 times more power per weight unit of material than current commercially available solar cells. The fabrication of flexible solar panels is on the horizon, which can be wrapped around curved or uneven surfaces or reduced in scale, expand the possibilities for where solar can be deployed.

10.  There’s sufficient electricity production from renewable energy sources that we no longer talk about “renewables.” American grid-connected wind turbines have a combined capacity of 60,000 MW, projected to double by 2020. Solar is enjoying explosive growth. Energy storage solutions will “firm up” the intermittency of wind and solar and thus eliminate the last objections to reliance on renewables. It will just be a cheap and clean source of electricity without the price volatility of fossil fuels.

These final five predictions are well on their way to realization too, although the prediction about nanotechnology advances is admittedly a stretch goal. You’ll note that energy storage has a significant influence on the advancement of some of these predictions.  We’ll keep tracking these predictions and bring you periodic updates.

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Great Progress on Smart Grid and Smart City Predictions for 2020

How much can change in a year? When it comes to Smart Grid and Smart City topics, the answer is quite simply – a lot can change. Here’s progress report on my ten predictions about Smart Grid and Smart Cities activity by 2020. The first five are featured this week. You can review the complete predictions here and here, and judge for yourself the quality of my crystal ball.

  1. California hits and exceeds its RPS objective of 33% renewable sources of electricity by 2020 – the most ambitious of all states with this calendar deadline. As of October 2014, the state’s three investor-owned utilities (IOUs) obtained 22.7% of their electricity from renewables, and are on track to meet the 2016 25% milestone. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) projects that solar alone will contribute 42% of the state’s total renewables generation. The state has about 245,000 rooftop solar PV installed now, and by 2017 the aggregated generation from these systems will approach 3,000 MW.
  2. Grid resiliency strategies take priority for investor-owned, municipal, and rural utilities. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has a number of initiatives in grid resiliency, and their clients are utilities. Governmental, commercial and residential interests build microgrids that are capable of delivering a limited degree of building self-sufficiency in energy. NYSERDA announced the first in the nation NY Prize, a $40 million competition to build microgrids and other local energy grids. New Jersey launched the Energy Resilience Bank – the first public infrastructure bank in the country focused on DER for energy resiliency. This bank is capitalized with $200 million for projects that harden critical infrastructure. Utility support for microgrids is growing as utilities like Con Ed see that the Reforming Energy Vision initiative presents an opportunity to redefine utility business models to accommodate new microgrid product and service offerings.
  3. As utilities consider grid hardening, cities redefine what being a smart city really means. Smart cities aren’t smart if their critical infrastructure relies on fragile transmission or distribution grids. Definitions abound for smart cities, but the lack of consistent standardized frameworks are serious obstacles to development of smart cities. For some states, notably New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, (states hammered by Superstorm Sandy among other weather events) a city is smart if it upgrades critical infrastructure and deploys distributed energy resources and microgrids for select community buildings and systems.
  4. Consumer intermediation threats abound for utilities. Investor guidance reports released earlier this year pointed out a number of threats to the existing regulated utility business model, and noted the potential for confrontations between tech giants (notably Google and Apple) and utilities in value-added services (specifically energy management services) to consumers. Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy about solar generation, and companies like Solar City and Sungevity have capitalized on these trends to make it easy for consumers to build relationships with non-traditional energy companies.
  5. Standards that define how to integrate or grid-tie microgrids and other standalone generation and energy storage assets for bi-directional electricity flows to utility distribution grids are globally adopted. The existing IEEE 1547 standard currently used for DER such as solar PV requires that these assets must be de-energized if they are tied to the grid and it loses power. While necessary as a safety measure, it defeats the purpose of microgrids remaining up to power critical infrastructure or meaningfully contribute power back to the grid. The Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) started Priority Action Plan (PAP) 24 for microgrid operational interfaces. This PAP focuses on information models and interoperability and consistency of signals used by microgrid controllers. Another group called PAP 25 will encourage standards that harmonize financial data, as well as forming a new group focused on Transactive Energy. These are all critical steps to develop the standards that will govern bi-directional electricity and realize the full promise of the Smart Grid, as well as power smart cities.

 

There’s been real progress for the first five predictions and they are well on their way to realization by 2020. Next week I will review progress on the final five predictions.

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