Why utilities are critical to cleaner, smarter energy future

Why utilities are critical to cleaner, smarter energy future

Distributed solar poses challenges to current utility business and regulatory models, as highlighted in the March 7 Washington Post article "Utilities Wage Campaign Against Rooftop Solar." But the article painted a partial picture of how our nations utilities are responding to the rapid growth of solar. In fact, many utilities are actively working side by side with businesses to bring the benefits of clean, renewable energy to every customer.

New Jersey provides one model of how this can be done. Once the state set aggressive goals for reducing greenhouse gases, industry stepped up to meet it, as did PSE&G, New Jerseys largest electric and gas utility. As a result, New Jersey is an early leader in solar one of only three states to have more than one gigawatt of installed solar capacity. Nearly 500 companies are active in the states solar industry, employing 6,500 people. PSE&G has built 23 solar farms, installed solar panels on 174,000 utility poles, and provided financing to help its customers put solar on their own roofs. The utility solar projects that PSE&G has built on landfills bring the benefits of clean solar power to all customers and at half the cost of most rooftop solar systems.

Other examples of positive, proactive approaches to solar energy can be found around the country at hundreds of investor-owned, public power and rural electric cooperative utilities.

We need many different types of clean energy solutions including solar, energy efficiency, demand response and electric vehicles. All of these solutions depend upon and will thrive with an electric grid that is made more reliable, resilient and flexible. All this comes at a cost, and it will take time to make the transition.  
Rather than fight, we must enlist utilities, technology providers and policymakers in nationwide and local efforts, like SEPAs 51st State Initiative, to create win-win solutions that incorporate both new clean technologies and energy efficiency by far the cheapest method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Its been shown time and again that the cheapest energy is the energy you dont use. Unleashing the full power of energy efficiency can save consumers billions of dollars nationwide. The environmental benefits of energy efficiency are equally impressive. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that energy efficiency improvements can achieve 23% of its carbon reduction goal for the nation through the year 2030.

With both energy efficiency and solar, utilities can play a critical role in bringing clean energy benefits to all consumers regardless of income levels and whether they own or rent their home. Utilities can remove barriers to help customers invest in a cleaner energy supply. Its not surprising that in most states that excel in energy efficiency and solar, utilities are front and center in this effort.

The challenge for the utility industry is to become more responsive to customer needs while doing so at reasonable cost and with less impact on the environment. The overwhelming majority of residential and small business customers have very limited tools to understand how much energy they are using and what options are available to help them lower their bills. Utilities can be the key to helping customers better understand and then cost-effectively manage their energy use.  

Making energy more reliable, cleaner and affordable at the same time is not a utopian vision, but one within reach if we work together. The benefits of doing so are compelling from many perspectives for families, businesses and our nation. Clean energy investments will fuel economic growth, by directly creating tens of thousands of jobs and by making our economy more competitive. Furthermore, these investments will enable us to make great strides toward solving the unprecedented challenge of global climate change while putting us on the path to a prosperous, sustainable future.

Source: Utility Dive

Smart Grid Bulletin March 2019

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