Navigant Research Blog

How Invested Is NY REV in a DER-Centric Energy Future?

— November 10, 2016

Last week, the New York Department of Public Service (DPS) released a report examining the best means of future integration for distributed energy resources (DER). Spoiler alert: it’s not net energy metering.

Instead, under the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding, state policymakers want to see the development of a valuation framework for DER that values resources according to benefits that can be achieved by both the utility and customers. This should be done by establishing the holistic value of DER on the grid in the short term and by enabling the configuration of transactive, distributed markets for DER in the longer term. In the short term, proposed value for DER will be focused on two areas:

  • Distribution grid services, which include offsets and deferment of short-term and long-term investment costs.
  • Aggregated generation resources and ancillary services to be sold to the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) through NYISO markets to optimize generation and transmission operations and costs.

The DPS report stated: “The modernization of New York’s electric system will involve a variety of products and services that will be developed and transacted through market initiatives. Products, rules, and entrants will develop in the market over time, and markets will value the attributes and capabilities of all types of technologies. As Distributed System Platform capabilities evolve, procurement of DER attributes will develop as well, from a near-term approach based on requests for proposals and load modifying tariffs, toward a more sophisticated auction approach.”

Though the recommendation does not completely get rid of retail net metering (which it proposes to grandfather in), this is a significant stepping stone in terms of providing a roadmap toward the active restructuring of an energy market around DER integration.

Initiatives at Odds?

Prior to the report, REV introduced two other efforts related to the accurate valuation of DER. The first, the 2015 Benefit Cost Analysis framework, sought to establish a precise structure for evaluating and comparing different types of investment required to establish a distribution-level market for DER (including both distribution infrastructure and grid-connected DER). A corresponding DPS effort includes a proposal to create utility Distribution System Implementation Plans, which “identify [utility] system needs, proposed projects for meeting those needs, potential capital budgets, particular needs that could be met through DER or other alternatives, and plans for soliciting those alternatives in the marketplace.”

But these tasks and initiatives seem to run counter to what the state is actually enabling utilities to invest in. As of now, the only major investment projects in New York seem to be for advanced metering infrastructure (or smart meter) deployments. On the other hand, REV demonstration projects have been single use cases and limited in scope. To take on the task of granular, accurate valuation—one of the most complex technology challenges associated with DER integration—might require a bit more upfront and direct investment.

 

A Tragedy of Interests in Stalled Exelon-Pepco Merger

— March 17, 2016

modern square and skyscrapersExelon Corp.—the technologically progressive parent company to Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), PECO, and Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE)—has faced multiple setbacks in its bid to integrate Pepco, which would make for the largest utility merger to date in North America. In 2014, Exelon’s and Pepco’s boards of directors unanimously approved a cash-based merger between the two companies. Both have been early smart grid movers, with Exelon’s subsidiary ComEd being among the technological leaders in both smart grid and smart cities innovation, and BGE receiving $200 million in Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) funding for 2008-2012. Pepco Holdings, Inc. (Washington, D.C.) received over $50 million from SGIG for investments in advanced metering infrastructure, distribution automation, and customer experience improvement.

Ratepayer Advocacy, of Sorts

Following over 12 months of negotiations with the District of Columbia Public Services Commission (PSC), the merger has been delayed due to controversy over the insulation of residential ratepayers through 2019. The original plan, heavily advocated by D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser, had negotiated over $78 million to support environmental projects, low-income assistance, and workforce training initiatives, while funding a cap on residential rates for the next 4 years.

The PSC’s argument in rejecting the merger was that the plan created an imbalanced structure of support for residential ratepayers that federal funds and private businesses already supported. As such, it countered with a plan to place the $78 million in PSC-controlled escrow accounts, with none of that being set aside specifically to offset rate increase.  That plan has been rejected by Bowser, for the obvious reason that it removes her core requirement of placing financial protections on rates for citizens.

In order for the merger to continue, all nine parties involved in drafting the original version must agree to a revised merger proposition. And consensus among these groups, including the Apartment and Office Building Association (which supports the PSC ruling and protests the lack of assurances against commercial rate increases), and the D.C. Office of the People’s Council (which has rejected the PSC’s proposed changes reason similar to Bowser) might be a taller order than had been originally anticipated by the companies.

 

Reading for a Changing Utility Landscape

— January 6, 2016

If you have been on the Internet recently, you will have noticed that the end of 2015 brings with it endless online posts regarding some of the year’s bests, worsts, highlights, and lowlights. I’m following suit by listing a handful of my favorite semi-work-related books. Throughout the last year, many thought leaders introduced creative approaches that apply to current utility business challenges. These approaches include, but are not limited to, organic growth, disruptive technologies, and fraternal twins, and global warming and climate change. Here are my favorites from 2015:

  1. How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery, by Kevin Ashton.
    Now that the Internet of Things (IoT) has entered the energy and utilities industry in a big way, it is time for people in this industry to read something by the man who coined that term, even though the book itself is not specifically focused on IoT. Debunking the idea that greatness is the result of single moments of revelation, Ashton argues for the merits in repeated experimentation, failure, and gradual development. Utilities feeling pressured by an all-or-nothing approach to developing an integrated and smart organization can pivot their focus a bit more toward how they can start to get their hands dirty, focusing on small achievements to support the foundation of much larger change.
  2. Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry, by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff.
    While I did not love the heavy historical narrative in this book, it did really hone in on the concept that one should never underestimate their competition (in BlackBerry’s case, the iPhone), and that competition can come from anywhere. Since the power utility industry has traditionally been protected by a regulated monopoly model, lessons in dealing with competition are likely less ingrained than in other deregulated markets. But as the regulatory environment changes, young companies in solar, storage, IoT, energy efficiency, and demand management have encroached on utility consumers like never before, and there are no signs that their momentum will slow. The utility-customer relationship is becoming more important than ever, right when it stands the most threat.
  3. Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, By Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner
    Based on a 4-year study of random individuals tasked to predict outcomes based on common information, the authors of this book found that the best forecasters followed a common methodology based on data collection and objectivity. This seems like an obvious outcome, but the authors also noted that it is very rarely applied to business, economic, and political forecasting. Something for all of us to ponder.

These are just three books that felt pertinent to me this year given the changes occurring in the United States and globally, where environmental, political, and technological forces are shaping organizational change at an unprecedented rate. In a time of unruly transition, one thing that cannot hurt executives is to start reading up on the topics that have helped leaders in other evolving industries—and look for ways to apply lessons to their new challenges.

 

India’s 100 Smart Cities Program Spurs Investment and Criticism

— October 28, 2015

Narendra Modi, India’s new prime minister, has embraced technology more so than any of his predecessors. With 15.7 million followers on Twitter (I was happy when I reached 100) and more than 30 million Facebook followers, the global leader recently made an imprint on the high-tech epicenter of Silicon Valley, visiting a number of companies there last month to talk about how technology can help India face difficult social, economic, and environmental issues. His 100 Smart Cities program is a landmark of this philosophy, aspiring to develop new urban spaces to support overwhelming population growth, adapt to climate change, and create a modern economy. But many have asked if this program really has the capability of supporting these development needs, and if it is instead channeling funds away from areas that desperately need support.

Modi introduced his program in June of 2015, just a month after taking office, pledging a short term investment of $1.2 billion for the planning of projects across the country to be completed over the course of 7 years. Other countries such as Japan, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates have also promised billions in investments. Indian cities planned for upgrades and development are predominantly located in the economic corridor between Delhi and Mumbai, as well as in Special Investment Regions and Special Economic Zones where there are fewer restrictions upon international business and investment.

The program’s flagship city of Dholera, located in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, has been in planning mode since 2009 and is currently under construction, with completion expected in 2020. Plans for the megacity include a modernized smart grid infrastructure that supports high levels of renewables and a citywide communications infrastructure and smart city platform that supports both public and private sectors.

Challenges Loom

But aside from Modi’s smart city plan is the fact that much of India will still remain severely underdeveloped. A number of Indian and international development groups have spoken out about the negative impacts of developing isolated super cities while the rest of the country remains underdeveloped and without adequate public infrastructure and access to utilities. Large parts of the country still need to be electrified, and many that are suffer from as much as 40% capacity losses from theft. This has led to a troubled financial state for many of India’s utilities, which are expected to struggle to balance these issues and attract financial support for smart infrastructure investment.

Developing smart cities as a top-down initiative leaves room to overlook the ground-up steps required to effectively meld together technology and community interests. Without citizen participation as an integral part of planning, even if citizens have access to smart city infrastructure to some degree, what are the chances that it will be relevant to them? This is a concern particularly with the country’s poorest citizens, which remain a majority of the population in the country, and may face loss of farmland in areas where smart cities are scheduled to be developed on top of it. Additionally, a large part of this population is dispersed among the outskirts of many cities—how can centralized smart infrastructure provide support to those that can’t easily access it? Modi’s planning, as big and impressive as it sounds, still has some issues to address in order for it to enable economic growth for all of India’s citizens.

 

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