The energy industry is transforming at a faster pace than ever before in its history. As in other markets, the ideas of decentralization, automation and optimization have found their way into recent conversations. Utilities, businesses and consumers alike are beginning to see the opportunity and value of investing in distributed energy resources (DERs) – including demand response (DR), energy storage and electric vehicle infrastructure. For utilities, the value comes in the form of grid operations, reliability and efficiency. For businesses and consumers, the value is driven primarily by their overall financial benefit.
Recently, we participated in a panel at Smart Grid Northwest’s Northwest Demand Response & Energy Storage Summit on the topic The Next Frontier: Where Does Storage, and Other Energy Flexibility Solutions, Go From Here. In this session, moderated by Aaron, panelists uncovered emerging trends in energy storage, electric vehicles (EVs) and demand-side solutions. Besides Tim, panelists included Jim Bullock, Sr. Director Grid Storage at Green Charge Networks; Richard Riley, North America Business Development Manager at Highview Power Storage; and Josh Keeling, Supervisor, Customer Energy Solutions at Portland General Electric. These speakers’ deep familiarity and real-world examples allowed attendees to understand how the DER evolution creates dynamic challenges and opportunities in the Northwest as utilities seek to manage load and support electrical growth. Other questions addressed by the panelists included: How do we ensure mass adoption of DERs? What does mass adoption look like from a regional perspective? What future impacts of mass adoption to the customer and the grid should we consider now?
At this session and others at Smart Grid Northwest’s summit, three key takeaways emerged that have real relevance for utilities nationwide:
1. Consumer appetite does not equal adoption.
Customers are interested in emerging products like EVs and battery storage, yet market barriers can slow uptake—for example, the lack of vehicle charging stations. Adoption can be further impacted by utilities’ limited experience introducing products beyond energy efficiency technologies to the market. A two-pronged approach, in which the utility engages trusted vendors to oversee the product launch while the utility leverages their public benefit mandate to influence regulatory and infrastructure changes, creates an optimal solution.
2. Driving change requires all hands on deck.
As we enter a dynamic future with endless unknowns, creating space for utilities, vendors and policy makers to help shape regulations is essential to increasing grid resilience. A continuous dialogue between all stakeholders helps identify constraints on the distribution grid, streamline and prioritize projects and ensure alignment between utility strategy and regulatory decisions. Because of this engagement, policy changes can be made more efficiently and regulations have a higher likelihood of success.
3. Our focus must remain on the customer.
Today’s modern customer is bombarded by multiple energy-related solutions, resulting in confusion and indecision, yet few industry players understand how to approach the customer experience holistically. How do we bring value to the customer beyond conventional energy efficiency benefits? How does the customer discern between “programs” and “products”? A truly customer-centric perspective on grid expansion must understand the impact on the consumer at each stage, fully considering issues like grid flexibility and the delivered economic value.
At ENGIE Insight (formerly Ecova) and EV Box, we understand that a new energy future is upon us, and conventional energy efficiency programs are no longer sufficient to navigate it effectively. Load reduction, demand response and energy storage are the next wave—and the ability to weave these solutions together into a holistic experience for the customer will differentiate the utilities of tomorrow from the utilities of today. Participating in the Northwest Demand Response & Energy Storage Summit provided vital insight into the journey that lies ahead. We’re excited to continue working with our partners, bolstered by the strength of ENGIE, to drive powerful results as the energy revolution unfolds.