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SEPA Grid Summit Addresses the Evolution of Energy Resources

Brett Feldman
Aug 22, 2018

Connected Globe

I recently attended the Smart Electric Power Alliance’s Grid Evolution Summit in Washington, DC. I remember when it was known as the National Town Meeting on Demand Response (DR), but this year I moderated the only panel left on DR. The industry is evolving and different types of energy resources are integrating together, but I’ll carry the DR torch as long as I can.

Communication Enables Coordination of Global and Local Initiatives

The conference kicked off with a keynote by Jeremy Rifkin. He talked about his idea of the Third Industrial Revolution in which the digitization of communication, energy, and transportation/mobility technologies will converge to create a more sustainable global economy. Rifkin introduced the audience to the term glocalization. This involves communicating and interacting on a global basis to create overarching solutions while acting locally through technology that customizes those solutions based on provincial conditions.

Panels and Keynotes Touch on Grid and Energy Optimization

Next was a panel providing an update on the status of the restoration and rebuilding of the electric grid in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. There is still a long way to go, and hopefully a more resilient system can be developed basically from scratch. Lessons can be learned from the mainland, but the island geography also opens opportunities for innovative applications of microgrids and energy storage.

One highlight was the keynote address by Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy Colorado. She talked about the past, present, and future of the energy landscape in Colorado and how the utility will need to change to meet the needs of customers, regulators, and investors. The key is to balance technology, economics, and customers to find the right combination of solutions. Proactive stakeholder engagement is a critical tool to achieve these goals in an effective, consensus-based manner.

A panel pondered SEPA’s 51 State initiative, which considers what the state regulatory model of the future needs to look like to accommodate grid transformation. It was interesting to hear a regulator (Asim Haque, chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio), a utility (Carlos Nouel, VP of New Energy Solutions at National Grid), and a vendor (Julie Blunden, executive VP of business development at EVgo) discuss issues in different jurisdictions. Nouel talked about the fact that utilities have an important role to play in the transformation process, while Haque indicated that such large-scale changes may not play well in Ohio.

The Tip of the Energy Iceberg

Beyond those sessions, there were a plethora of other panels covering various topics grouped into the buckets of Grid Innovation, Market Design, and Consumer Engagement. I led a dialog on DR in a distributed energy resources (DER) world, which highlighted the fact that we can no longer live in siloes and all technologies will need to be integrated.

The attendees at the event have evolved as much as the grid itself, with more software, storage, and EV participants. It will be interesting to see how the event and attendance continues to change as our energy reality shifts. I look forward to another sweltering summit next summer.