By Megan Cleveland
Technology and distributed energy resources are revolutionizing our relationship to energy. This emerging theme was echoed by two energy industry experts during a session at NCSL’s Legislative Summit.
Presenters John Barnick with ABB Enterprises, Inc. and Marcy Reed with National Grid Massachusetts, discussed the array of technologies that are transforming the electric grid—ranging from smart meters to energy storage to microgrids—and the resulting myriad of opportunities and challenges that they present.
Barnick and Reed also discussed the rapid growth of renewable energy sources, including wind and distributed solar, that is creating new challenges for utility grid operators, aggregators and consumers. Barnick summarized, “There’s definitely a renewable energy revolution going on; whether it’s wind, solar or battery storage.”
The evolving energy mix is at odds with the electric grid, which has been changing at a slower pace. The grid was designed as a centralized system, where large generating facilities deliver power to consumers, and not for the two-way flows and decentralization that now characterize electric distribution. Reed summarized, “long gone is the single [direction] method. That’s how [the electric grid] was built, but it no longer works like that.”
A modernized grid, featuring emerging technologies such as rooftop solar, advanced metering infrastructure and energy storage, presents several opportunities. These include greater customer control and choice in how they use energy; a cleaner, more resilient, reliable and integrated electric grid; and an increased use of efficiency, distributed energy resources and renewable generation.
Although these technologies offer many benefits, utilities and regulators continue to grapple with compensation for distributed energy resources, valuation of generation, grid security and reliability, and regulatory policy design.
Both Barnick and Reed emphasized that regulatory policy, as opposed to technology, is the greatest hurdle the energy industry faces. The speed of technological advances has overtaken the pace at which the industry can regulate. “Technology is moving fast. It can solve problems, but you need policy,” said Barnick.
This need for policy creates a space for state legislatures to be involved in this revolution. “You, too, have a role to play in this,” remarked Reed to her legislative audience, “to envision what it will be like for our customers.”
Seizing the opportunities offered by the evolving energy and technology mix and addressing the new challenges will require collaboration between regulators, policymakers, utilities, the energy industry and customers. Reed emphasized that there is “plenty” for stakeholders to worry about and urged the audience—comprised of state legislators, legislative staff and utility and industry representatives—to not worry about the clashes and to “just hunker down” and work together to build a new grid.
For more on these topics, see the NCSL report “Integrating Renewable Energy” and NCSL’s newest report “Here Comes the Sun: A State Policy Handbook for Distributed Solar Energy.”
Megan Cleveland is a policy associate in NCSL’s Environment, Energy and Transportation Group.