Driving Innovation and Modern Pricing Structures to Create the Utility of the Future
Clean energy business leaders, academics and former public utility regulators engaged in a dynamic discussion on the Utility of the Future at our first Emerging Trends Series panel of the year.
The panel, which included energy system experts Richard Tabors, the Executive Director, Utility of the Future Project and the MIT Energy Initiative; Jesse Jenkins, a member of the Utility of the Future Project research team; Tim Woolf, Vice President of Synapse Energy Economics; and Paul Centolella, President, Paul Centolella & Associates, dissected the recently released study The Utility of the Future which sought to address the technology, policy, and business models shaping the evolution of the delivery of electricity services. The full panel, moderated by NECEC Executive Vice President Janet Gail Besser will be available to view online in the coming days.
Tabors kicked off the panel by delving into the key tenets of the study, which examines how distributed energy resources and information and communication technologies are creating new options for the provision of electricity services with a focus on policy and regulatory recommendations the U.S. and Europe could apply in the next decade to facilitate an affordable, reliable, low carbon electricity system.
“You need to look at the entire system and ask how do you make all the pieces of the electricity system work together,” said Tabor.
Jenkins, who was part of the MIT research team on the Utility of the Future study, and also co-author of NECEC’s 2014 white paper Leading the Next Era of Electricity System Innovation, focused comments on prices and charges, noting that expanding choice will require improved rate design, and a comprehensive and efficient system of prices and charges. Jenkins advocated for a shift to more granular pricing, emphasizing the need to address peak demand, which is a key driver of electricity costs.
Taking a countering view, Synapse Energy Economics’ Tim Woolf argued that the MIT study overlooks two key areas in need of progress to move the needle on future utility models. Those areas include planning and customer response.
Woolf pushed for advocates to support utilities investing in innovation. Centolella agreed, stating that “We need to improve the overall innovation energy ecosystem. Utilities need to be engaged and involved in the middle stages of innovation development so that adoption is accelerated.”
Wrapping up the panel, Besser noted that now more than ever is the time for clean energy and cleantech companies and innovators to be engaged in the policies and regulatory activity that will shape the future of our utilities and electricity system.
“Regulation is key,” she said. “Today there are active discussions in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York that will lead the way.”