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Utility Reinvention Underway

EDITOR’S NOTE: Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism dispatched two graduate students to cover Empowering Customers & Cities, an executive energy conference, held in Chicago recently. This is the first of a two-part series. Next week: Microgrids in a Customer Choice World.

The next Uber or Airbnb in your life may be your local electric utility company. Choosing how to power your home in the future could be more like selecting from your Netflix queue, with a market of energy options to choose from to meet your particular energy needs.

And the reinvention is already underway, according to Anne Pramaggiore, president and CEO of ComEd at “Empowering Customers and Cities,” an executive energy conference envisioning the future of energy use.  Pramaggiore and other utility CEOs joined energy experts to call for a “rush to renewables” and a new business model for providing energy because of economic incentives and environmental concerns.
“The end game is clear for economic prosperity and security and quality of life. We need an energy system that is cleaner, leaner and ultra reliable, as well as service which must ultimately respond to the clarion call of the digital age – customized, connected, and communal,” said Pramaggiore.

Mary Powell

That means consumers could see more data on their energy usage from automatic meter readings and increased energy reliability, she said. In an outage, power might automatically reroute to a power line that is still live.

Pramaggiore co-chaired the conference with Marty Rosenberg, editor of The Energy Times.

For five years, ComEd has been working to rebuild their energy system by storm-proofing infrastructure and adding digital technologies, such as smart meters to homes, Pramaggiore said. Smart meters can be read remotely and automatically tell the electric company you’ve lost electricity in a power outage, she said.

Pramaggiore said ComEd is now implementing phase two of an energy transformation “by adding clean to smart.  But Mary Powell, president and CEO of Green Mountain Power in Vermont, said that is not enough.

“We did smart meters a while ago. Honestly, something kept bugging me the whole time we were doing it. Honestly, I can’t believe we’re an industry that looks at that as being technologically revolutionary. It’s really not,” Powell said.

“You know what’s kind of revolutionary?” she said.” A future not too far away where we’re not even installing a meter.”

Powell is the one who captured the spirit of the conference with the phrase “rush to renewables.”

Green Mountain Power partnered with Tesla on a Tesla Powerwall that can store excess energy for emergencies or for nighttime use in combination with a solar rooftop home generating system, Powell said.

The Tesla Powerwall launched in May is a home battery installed by the company, according to a company press release.

The company is the primary energy provider for Vermont, an area that is more rural than Northern Illinois and Chicago, ComEd’s service area. Powell said. Green Mountain Energy wants to move the primary energy system to multiple communities homes and businesses, instead of distributing it from a central system.

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