Utilities: Here’s the Future Environmentalists Plan to Give You

on November 04, 2013 at 11:00 AM

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Quick Take: When it comes to the pending electricity revolution, many utilities dither or postpone or  explain away (“It may have happened to every other industry. But it will NEVER happen to us. Because we’re special.”)  Many environmental groups, on the other hand, are stepping up. They are not just saying that something must change. They are saying WHO must change and how.

Here’s an example from the Rocky Mountain Power Institute, one of the world’s most effective environmental think tanks. (Okay, the bar’s pretty low, but still.) It’s embedded inside a recent RMI annual report, which is worth skimming in its entirety, since so much of it touches on electric power. And since RMI is convinced that the thing that must change the most is… utilities. Quick overview below, or click this link and then read pages 10-21 of the report. – By Jesse Berst

RMI is focused on four key drivers:

1. The current utility model must change. It presumes central generation and long-distance transmission. It must be changed (says RMI) to  a system that is 80% renewables and 50% distributed.

2.  Utilities must spend their money differently. “Before we commit to decades more of the same old power system,” says the report, we must rethink how we might invest smarter for a better result. RMI believes a modernized system could cost roughly the same as an old-fashioned one.

3. Distributed energy resources will grow very quickly and be a game changer. DERs will create a two-way relationship instead of the current presumption that power flows solely from utility to customer.

4. The desire for resilience may push people away from today’s utilities. Superstorms have heightened interest in grid resilience and security. Innovations such as microgrids and distributed energy resources may offer advantages over utilities’ centralized power plants and long transmission lines.

Jesse Berst is the founder and Chief Analyst of SGN and Chairman of the Smart Cities Council, an industry coalition.