Navigant Research Blog

Innovators Wanted for DER Solutions: Part 3

Laura Vogel — November 7, 2017

Coauthored by Brett Feldman

Earlier this year, Navigant Research wrote about innovations required to overcome challenges to widespread distributed energy resources (DER) adoption and integration. Next, we offered examples of some companies and products looking to address those gaps from different perspectives, with varying levels of success so far. Here, we follow up with a few more examples related to business models, customer relationships, market structures, and organizational paradigms.

Models

Edison Energy is an unregulated business unit of Edison International, the parent company of regulated utility Southern California Edison. It is branded as an advisory and services company that can design energy solutions—on both the supply and demand side—for large energy users. It is one of the major early competitors demonstrating the emerging energy as a service business model, having made rapid strides into the market by acquiring four startups—collectively, a $100 million investment (SoCore Energy, ENERActive Solutions, Delta Energy Services, and Altenex).

However, Edison Energy has also struggled to find its footing, despite the aggressive approach to acquiring new capabilities. It is now undergoing a major shake-up at the executive level, including the departure of its president in July 2017 after a strategic review by its parent company.

Relationships

The customer relationship with utilities, energy usage, and technology providers is changing. Utilities are now expected to offer a wider array of customer-facing services, offer a digital experience, and accommodate customer self-generation like solar PV. In many cases, utilities and technology providers are increasingly competing for the same customers (e.g., as a demand response program provider).

At the same time, other vendors are finding new products and services to sell to utilities to help them meet changing customer needs. Schneider Electric is one such vendor tapping into this transformation. In this case, Schneider Electric is marketing its WiserAir smart thermostat to utilities as a way to engage customers with an energy management platform before a competitor does.

Markets

Transactive energy is a hot topic in the energy industry and a concept that has great potential for DER markets. Transactive energy would allow customers with DER to trade power and grid services with each other and their utilities, leveraging blockchain technology for encrypted trading between parties. Policymakers and technology vendors have been the loudest proponents of transactive energy so far, but utilities are cautious about the value/benefits of such a market.

Utilities are also mindful of the influence of market forces on the reliability of their distribution systems and the large amount of software and grid technology that would be required to manage such a market. These are some of the primary reasons that a true transactive marketplace is still a relatively distant goal, even in California, which has been investigating DER for more than 10 years and is making progress on locational pricing for grid resources.

Organization

Many of the industry changes associated with DER have major repercussions for regulatory and utility organizational structures. These repercussions are most apparent in New York, under the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative. In 2016, the New York Public Service Commission approved structural reforms to electric utility regulations related to the alignment of utility shareholder financial interests and customer interests. Under the order, utilities have four ways of achieving earnings: (1) traditional cost-of-service earnings; (2) earnings tied to achievement of alternatives that reduce utility capital spending and provide definitive consumer benefit; (3) earnings from market-facing platform activities; and (4) transitional outcome-based performance measures. Changes to earnings, ratemaking approaches, and technology deployment will have a major influence on the affected utilities and how they are regulated.

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