What Do Customers Want Beyond Electricity Delivery?
Top consumer smart grid news hand-selected and brought to you by the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative.
Today’s residential energy customers are asking for more from their electricity providers: more options, more personalization and more innovation. This new reality of consumer expectation and desire is leading electricity providers to offer many new products and services beyond basic electricity delivery – including some that are closely linked to energy and others that are slightly more distant extensions of the relationships that providers have with customers and their homes.
The Ameren Missouri-owned Lambert Community Solar Center opened its doors this week, the first of numerous planned community solar sites currently proposed by the company. The Lambert project was tacked onto the St. Louis Lambert International Airport, providing one megawatt of energy. It is located just west of the airfield, and the solar panels do their part without taking up airport property. From this site, customers will be able to purchase 100-kilowatt-hour blocks of solar energy for their use, each sold at a predetermined rate.
Texas-based public power utility Austin Energy will receive up to an additional 200 megawatts of wind power from an agreement with E.ON Climate & Renewables, the utility said. The Austin City Council authorized the 12-year power purchase agreement on August 8. Once the project reaches commercial operation in December 2020, Austin Energy customer needs will be met with approximately 61 percent renewable resources, which include previously approved contracts coming online in 2021 and 2023.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s NREL recently highlighted its Autonomous Energy Grids (AEG) project, which aims to ensure that the grid of the future can manage the growing base of intelligent energy devices, variable renewable energy and advanced controls. The AEG envisions a “self-driving power system,” a network of technologies and distributed controls that work together to efficiently match bi-directional energy supply to energy demand.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced on Twitter Sunday that the company has “relaunched” its solar division and will offer to rent rooftop panels to homeowners in six states, starting at $50/month for a 3.8 kW system. The company plans to offer panels for rent in Southwest states that get a lot of sun throughout the year, like California, Arizona and New Mexico and East Coast states with clean energy goals, like Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
Investor-owned utilities serve three out of every four utility customers in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s electric power sector survey data. According to EIA, almost 3,000 electric distribution companies were operating in the United States in 2017. EIA groups utilities into three ownership types: investor-owned utilities, publicly run or managed utilities and cooperatives. Investor-owned utilities make up a relatively small portion of utilities but are typically very large.
Rising renewables penetrations are increasing the need for utilities to alter rate designs. More dynamic pricing can signal customers when bill savings are possible for shifting use away from high demand periods. Automated technologies can help customers respond. And strong customer participation in these programs can turn variable renewables' threats into system benefits.
NEC Energy Solutions is building momentum with its grid battery offerings for municipal utilities in New England. Two years after a pathbreaking storage project with the Sterling Municipal Light Department in Massachusetts, NEC has added five more contracts in that state and one in Maine. The projects will add up to 20 megawatts of power capacity and more than 40 megawatt-hours of energy storage.