Utilities Getting Ready for the Digitally Enabled Grid
Top consumer smart grid news hand-selected and brought to you by the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative.
Accenture’s annual Digitally Enabled Grid research provides important insights regarding our increasingly digital grid. Findings highlighted the urgent need for utilities and their regulators to address significant risks associated with evolving customer demands and business strategies, and the challenges and opportunities we face. Utility executives identified the integration of distributed generation as the business challenge that has grown the most over the last two years.
PNM selected Enbala Power Networks for the management of its 2018 demand response program. PNM said the distributed energy resource technology firm agreed to administer the utility's Peak Saver demand response initiative in 2018 once the program is approved by the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission. Enbala Power Networks will be responsible for managing the program's current 15MW of demand response capacity.
Ameren has completed an advanced utility-scale microgrid. The $5 million facility, located at Ameren's Technology Applications Center adjacent to the University of Illinois campus is capable of serving paying customer loads on a utility distribution feeder. As larger companies and high energy users seek to become more energy independent, Ameren built the microgrid facility to test monitoring and control methods for aggregating clean, renewable energy sources – wind, solar, and natural gas – with advanced automation and battery storage.
Small and medium-sized businesses make up over 80 percent of businesses in the U.S. and as much as 25 percent of the load in a typical utility, making them a vital segment to reach. They are the most visible part of local communities, and their opinions influence not only JD Power scores for business, but the overall relationship communities have with local utilities. While utilities understand their importance, SMBs can often be hard to reach and expensive to serve.
We all know this: A digitally engaged utility customer is a happier utility customer. The numbers bear it out time and again. But how do you shift to a culture more digital? First rule: digital strategies start with the end user. Utilities who have invested deeply in digital tools make it easier for their customers to engage on their own terms, get the information they need and take control of their energy use.
Tesla and Vermont utility Green Mountain Power are offering a low price for home backup batteries: $15 per month. Now they’ve only got to get 2,000 customers to sign up, and make sure they’re capturing the additional grid benefits from each Powerwall 2 to make the price pencil out for the utility.
That utilities have a lot to gain from the electric vehicle transition is common knowledge. But if they don’t act, they could also have a lot to lose. The potential problems are clear in a recent estimate from SMUD. Highlighted in a new EV charging report, the utility forecasted that EV-related overloads could necessitate replacing 17 percent, or 12,000, of its transformers at an average cost of $7,400 each.
Even before smart meters, the utility industry was swimming in data about its customers. Now that data is flowing in much faster — every three seconds for some utilities, depending on their technology and software. This much data benefits the utilities themselves, and others too. App developers are lining up to get their hands on anonymous utility user data. ComEd was recently given the green light by Illinois regulators to share data if customers opt in. The information is vital for building business lines that support the utility of the future.