Utilities will have a vital role to play bringing on an energy revolution and should not be passive bystanders enabling others to mount the barricades, two veteran industry leaders said at the Edison Electric Institute Annual Convention this week.
"I disagree with this concept that the utility is only the platform for all these technologies," said Nicholas Akins, chairman, president and CEO of American Electric Power, one of the largest utilities in the nation. "We have to be able to invest in these technologies as well."
With poetic touch, Akins added, "We will be able to paint electrons now."
Richard Riazzi, president and CEO of Duquesne Light Company, based in Pittsburgh, referred to the new utility posture several times as the utility "leaning in" to the energy transformation. "We are an infrastructure company," he said, and as such, well positioned to help advance the smart city concept.
Unfortunately, technological advances are coming rapidly – more rapidlythan state regulatory processes can move, Riazzi said. Meanwhile, new alliances will be formed.
"It's going to drive people together who have never historically worked together," Akins said.
"It is a highly collaborative process," Riazzi said.
Ultimately, utilities will have to redefine their strategy and mission.
"There is a vast part of the business we haven't thought about in decades that is focused on the customer experience," Akins said. Big data analytics will be instrumental in that coming change, he said.
Geisha Williams, president and CEO of PG&E, based in San Francisco, said her company has launched a San Jose pilot to learn about the role of distributed energy resources managements system (DERMS) as the state deploys ever increasing amounts of renewable energy and storage.
"We never tested as many things at the same time at scale," Williams said. "We will optimize dispatch on day-ahead and an hour-forward basis." Lessons learned will be shared with regulators, she said.
Utilities will be tasked with becoming wiser about the increased intricacies of the grid they must keep pliant and secure, said Scott Prochazka, president and CEO of CenterPoint Energy, based in Houston. "If you are adding excitation at the edges, you have to understand what is going on," he said.
That excitation will mount, said Philip Mezey, president and CEO of Itron, based in Spokane .
"Innovation is going to accelerate," he said.