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Strategy & Planning

Are Utilities and Government Skimping on R&D?

Public utility regulation has a role to play in stimulating R&D by energy utilities. Studies have confirmed that social returns on R&D are much greater than private returns, evidence supporting government involvement (e.g., via funding or performance) in R&D.
Author Bio: 

Ken Costello serves as principal researcher for energy and environment for the National Regulatory Research Institute. Contact him at kcostello@nrri.org.

The future of the energy sector and environment is at stake.

Framing Virtual Reality

Virtual reality – a fully immersive, all-encompassing experience – has, for decades, captured the imagination of science fiction writers and tech innovators alike. How will this technology change the way we communicate or transact business?
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"The potential of virtual reality will be realized when it changes the way we interact with one another." – Shawn DuBravac
Author Bio: 

Dr. Shawn DuBravac is chief economist of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™ and the author of “Digital Destiny: How the New Age of Data Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Communicate.” Follow him on Twitter @shawndubravac.

What’s old is truly new again.

An Industry Transformed

By diving into today’s more diverse energy sector and embracing change, utilities stand to benefit over the long term. This is precisely why I am so excited about the future, even if I do occasionally look back wistfully on the past.
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"Today’s changes require open- mindedness …  a willingness to  let go of out-of-date-thinking." - Roy Palk
Author Bio: 

Roy Palk is senior energy advisor for the national law firm LeClairRyan, and works out of the firm’s office in Glen Allen, Virginia. Contact him at roy.palk@leclairryan.com.

Looking back on my 45 years in the energy sector.

Rethinking How To Value Energy Savings In Smaller Businesses

Evaluators could be performing nearly the identical regression analysis, but with the logarithm of energy usage as a dependent variable.
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"Evaluators could be performing nearly the identical regression analysis, but with  the logarithm of energy usage as a dependent variable." – Colin Fraser
Author Bio: 

Colin Fraser is a Data Scientist with EnerNOC focusing on experimental design and evaluation for behavioral energy efficiency and customer engagement programs. He has been involved with the design and rollout of several large scale randomized controlled trials for energy efficiency programs with some of the largest utility companies in the world.

In behavioral programs, where small businesses make all kinds of changes, attributing energy savings is not straightforward.

Reinvigorating a Century Old Business Model

Customers don’t have to wait decades while the grid incrementally evolves to incorporate transformational technologies. Led by customer-driven choices and decisions, we in the utility industry can and should accelerate the transition.
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"This reinvigorated model introduces individual-level customization – a million customers can have a million different rate bases." – Larry Kellerman
Author Bio: 

Larry Kellerman is Managing Partner of TFC Utilities. He has spent over three decades in the electric utility, power generation and independent energy industries, previously as CEO of Quantum Utility Generation, Partner at Goldman Sachs and President of the firm’s electric power business, Sr. Managing Director at El Paso Corporation, President of Citizens Power, and General Manager of Power Supply and Wholesale Marketing at Portland General Electric after starting his career at Southern California Edison.

The Power of Efficient Capital

Utilities' Role in Transport Electrification: Capturing Benefits for All Ratepayers

An EV charging infrastructure network only provides value and reduces range anxiety to the degree it is well maintained.
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Figure 1 - Net Societal Benefits from EV Charging Load
Figure 2 - San Francisco Bay Area Feeder and Substation Utilization
Figure 3 - Net Ratepayer Benefits from EV Charging Load
Net societal benefits occur, in large part, because electric vehicles require less primary energy than their gasoline counterparts.
Utility load growth from  EVs can actually benefit all ratepayers  by providing societal benefits and reducing utilities’ average cost of service.
Author Bio: 

Nancy Ryan is a Partner at Energy and Environmental Economics (E3), and an economist with over two decades of energy experience. Dr. Ryan was formerly a Commissioner at the California Public Utilities Commission, where she held a number of other senior positions. She taught applied economics at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy for many years, and has held senior climate advocacy roles at Environmental Defense Fund. Lucy McKenzie is a Consultant at E3, where she focuses on electric vehicles and other distributed energy resources. She holds a Master of Public Policy degree from UC Berkeley’s Goldman School, and spent 5 years working on energy projects at economic consulting firm Analysis Group, Inc.

The authors would like to thank former CPUC Commissioner Rachelle Chong, as well as Hilary Staver and Eric Cutter of E3, for their thoughtful suggestions and review.

Utility load growth from EVs can actually benefit all ratepayers by providing societal benefits and reducing utilities’ average cost of service.

PPL CEO Interviewed

What are the most exciting things happening at PPL? What were the biggest challenges in that journey? Were there some tough challenges you had to get through?
Author Bio: 

Bill Spence joined PPL in 2006 as executive vice president and chief operating officer. He was named president and CEO in 2011, and chairman in 2012. Previously, he served nineteen years with Pepco Holdings in senior management positions.

We went to Allentown and talked with Bill Spence.

We Made Light Free

Will lighting drop to a tenth of residential consumption, then below? Every use of a machine, appliance, device shrunk in its significance to the household budget.
Author Bio: 

Steve Mitnick is Editor-in-Chief of Public Utilities Fortnightly and author of the book “Lines Down: How We Pay, Use, Value Grid Electricity Amid the Storm.”

As inexpensive as lighting was, twenty years ago, we’ve since made it close to free. Too cheap to meter?

Defying the Odds

Reports of coal’s demise are exaggerated. This summer, Dominion cleared the regulatory gauntlet to start up a new coal plant. Whether the example can be replicated might hinge on state incentives—and the forward price of natural gas.

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Figure 1 - Coal-Fired Emissions Progress
One of very few coal-fired power plants commissioned in recent years, the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center uses air-cooled condensers (the green-topped structures) to reduce water consumption to one-tenth that of a comparable coal-fired plant.
A wood tipper delivers wood waste to the Virginia City circulating fluidized bed plant, which can burn up to 20 percent biomass along with coal.
The Virginia City plant’s fluidized bed boiler produces a much larger volume of solid waste than a most comparable pulverized coal plant would, due to the higher ash content of the coals used and partly because of the limestone sorbent mixed with fuel during combustion. At Virginia City, solid waste is stored onsite in a specially designed, 158-acre landfill.
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Coping with Carbon at Virginia City
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The Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center was already under construction when EPA issued its proposed rule regulating carbon dioxide at new sources, and therefore it isn’t subject to those restrictions. This facility is, however, well situated to deal with its carbon dioxide emissions, and the station’s owner, Dominion Resources, has supported research to establish a viable means of capturing and storing CO2.

While plans for the power station were proceeding and the permitting process was underway, carbon sequestration research funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy was being undertaken near the Virginia City site. This work was conducted by the Virginia Center for Coal & Energy Research at Virginia Tech, and led by the Center’s Director Dr. Michael Karmis. It was coordinated by Southern States Energy Board and was part of the Southeastern Carbon Sequestration Partnership (SECARB). Dominion Resources provided matching funds for the investigation.

Karmis and his team succeeded in establishing the feasibility of sequestering carbon dioxide in un-mineable coal seams in central Appalachia. Estimated capacity of nearby seams to sequester carbon dioxide far exceeds the production of this gas over the lifetime of the Virginia City facility. The Virginia Tech team now is working to demonstrate using CO2 injection to enhance production of coal-bed methane from the area, while also sequestering the carbon dioxide.

Carbon capture technologies haven’t yet been tested at the Virginia City site. But to position the facility to take advantage of its proximity to coal seams that have proven suitable for sequestration, Dominion designed the plant with carbon capture in mind, and space has been set aside for installation of such equipment when it becomes commercially available—and upon approval by the Virginia State Corporation Commission.–HW

Author Bio: 

Herbert Wheary (haggiscat@live.com) is a private consultant on energy policy in Richmond, Va. The opinions in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Commonwealth of Virginia or Dominion Resources.

Virginia brings a new coal-fired plant online.

Demand Growth and the New Normal

It’s tempting to attribute the recent slowdown in electricity demand growth entirely to the Great Recession, but consumption growth rates have been declining for at least 50 years. The new normal rate of demand growth likely will be about half of its historic value, with demand rising by less than 1 percent per year. This market plateau calls for a new utility strategy.

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Figure 1 - Electricity Sales Growth (Two-Decade Distributions)
Figure 2 - Cumulative Demand Growth (2010-2035)
Figure 3 - Arc of Price Responsiveness
Figure 4 - Impact of Codes and Standards on Electricity Consumption
Figure 5 - Efficiency Gains of ENERGY STAR Qualified Models
Figure 6 - ERCOT Loads in Texas (3/9/11 and 8/3/11)
Author Bio: 

Ahmad Faruqui is a principal at The Brattle Group, and Eric Shultz is a research analyst. This article was revised from Faruqui’s presentation at the Goldman Sachs Power & Utility Conference on Aug. 14, 2012. The authors acknowledge research assistance by Jennifer Palmer.

Five forces are putting the squeeze on electricity consumption.

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