EDITOR' S NOTE: Thomas R. Kuhn participated in a discussion on the future of electric power at Oracle's Industry Connect event in Washington last week moderated by The Energy Times' content director, Marty Rosenberg. He provided us with this executive summary of his views.
More than any time in recent memory, the U.S. electric power industry is in the midst of a major, long-term transformation. Across the country, electric utilities are transitioning to a low-carbon and digital future; increasingly integrating more renewable energy resources, particularly solar and wind, into their generation portfolios; and enhancing the electric power grid to accommodate all of the new technologies coming to market.
At the same time, utilities are focused on serving customers, who expect to be connected all the time and everywhere. We know that customers want to be able to plug in all of their new devices or access new services, and they expect us to continue to sustain a power grid that supports their needs, while also giving them flexibility and choice in how they use energy.
Today, there is a growing national debate about the role of utilities and the future of the grid. Recently a group of electric utility executives, technology company partners, regulators, and other thought leaders convened in Washington for a day of discussion and dialogue about these important issues.
Sponsored by the Edison Foundation Institute for Electric Innovation, this year’s Powering the People event featured a series of “connected conversations” focused on how the electric grid is evolving into a dynamic, plug-and-play network that connects millions of devices and integrates new services and technologies, including distributed generation, electric vehicles, smart home technologies, microgrids, and other resources. Today’s grid is changing to support an increasingly diverse set of both supply- and demand-side resources of varying types and sizes.
There was widespread agreement among the participants and the audience that the evolving grid will require continued and greater collaboration with technology partners, with regulators, and with customers; investment; price transparency for customers; and innovative thinking.
There was also recognition that since utilities already plan, build, and operate the grid, it just makes good business sense that utilities should continue to be the planners, builders, and operators of the power grid, working in partnership with third-party technology providers and customers. Not only is this the most cost-effective solution, it will also ensure that the reliability and resiliency of the system are maintained.
While new technologies and customer expectations play critical roles in the industry’s ongoing transformation, public policy is also a major driver of change. Going forward, it is critical that policies continue to recognize the value that the grid provides both as a platform for diverse, reliable, and affordable electricity, and as a facilitator for new technologies that give customers more choices and more control over their energy usage.
Ultimately, it is difficult to predict where the evolving power grid will go. One thing that I can say with certainty—the electric power industry will remain focused as always on providing customers with the reliable, affordable, safe, and increasingly clean electricity that powers their everyday lives, drives our economy, and makes innovation possible.
Thomas R. Kuhn is president of the Edison Electric Institute.